Tuesday, May 7, 2013

David Lyle's Show and Tell

Here's a piece from last year from the Lyons Weir Gallery in Chelsea. Yes, David Lyle painted this using black and white oil paint to make it seem like a 1950's era photo.

Basically the artist shows us the hidden side of the Eisenhower era.  The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s had its roots in the 1950s. This was, after all, the decade in which the Kinsey Report was written. This report showed that what Americans believed other Americans were doing sexually did not correspond to what Americans were really doing in the privacy of their homes and hotel rooms. 

Lyle depicts a young girl who has surreptitiously leafed through a Playboy magazine and is saving a photo of the iconic naked Marilyn Monroe centerfold in her school materials. Behind her are her stuffed animals, toys and other trappings of 1950s juvenile comfort.

I went to this gallery opening with a female, adult Korean student of mine, and when she saw this piece she literally blurted out, "That's me!"

She liked how, in the privacy of her own room, the young woman could enjoy a sense of freedom and exploration that was otherwise frowned upon in her daily life. She also liked the look of guiltless glee on the girl's face.

I think the artist does a great job of playing with a traditional 1950s image of peaceful family life and showing us greater candor and honesty - as if the true nature of the 1950s involved the need to live a double-life. We see a young woman fully embracing one aspect of that double-life here.

Speaking of a double-life in the 1950s, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Bettie Page, the devout super-Christian bondage model:

But, Bettie Page might actually represent the polar opposite of the Lyle painting - a different type of double-life.  Perhaps she represents a subtle type of hypocrisy also found in the 1950s. Indeed, the same hypocrisy might exist today.  For a time, for instance, I was the English teacher for a Korean pop group that was based in New York City, in an abortive attempt by their production company to cash in on the American market.

A couple of the performers I taught were very very very very 'religious'.  Yet, looking at clips of them on youtube, it seemed that, at times, they were being sexualized or objectified by their company.  Indeed, the sexualization of young women by Korean pop-music companies has become a controversial issue in that country. 

So once I asked one of these girls, "As a Christian, how do you feel about the way your company seems to sometimes sexualize and objectify you? Or don't you think this is happening?"  I remember she acted as if she had no idea what I was talking about.  I remember that she said, "Dan, I am in Jesus.  We, as performers, are in Jesus.  Everything we do is in Jesus."

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that one, but I concluded this was just what might be called the "Bettie Page complex."  Page was a devout Christian who saw nothing wrong with flaunting her (contrived and affected) sexuality for a profit.  Interestingly, many female Korean pop stars (and maybe pop stars in general) also seem to be super-Christians who act in a sexualized manner for profit.  This whole situation reminds me of the novel Mephisto, by Klaus Mann, where an actor publicly embraces an ideology he disagrees with in order to succeed.

So I'm confused. Was Bettie Page a hypocritical Christian who nominally embraced sexuality to make a buck, or was she a Christian embracing her sexuality?  It seems she lead the double-life of a Christian acting like a bondage queen, with no interest in bondage, whereas the young woman above in the painting was forced to act the role of a dutiful daughter and student, who harbored a rich inner fantasy life and desire for something more than the usual.

Indeed, the latter type of person became the market for the former. 

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