Cheryl Donegan’s work integrates the time-based, gestural forms of performance and video with forms such as painting, drawing and installation. Direct, irreverent, and infused with an ironic eroticism, Donegan’s work puts a subversive spin on issues relating to sex, gender, art-making and art history. Using her body as metaphor in her earlier works, Donegan’s performative actions before the camera often resulted in or related to process paintings and drawings.
By Dimitris Lempesis
Photo: Kunsthalle Zürich Archive
“My Plastic Bag” is Cheryl Donegan’s first ever comprehensive exhibition and refers to the small retrospective “Scenes + Commercials”, which was organized by Johanna Burton at the New Museum in New York. Donegan become well-known for her two films “Head” (1994) and “Kiss My Royal Irish Ass (K.M.R.I.A.)” (1993), both of which are on show at Kunsthalle Zürich. The films are unabashedly and erotically charged stagings of painting as performance and parody. In the mid-1990s, the films are widely acclaimed and critically received amidst the context of the emerging “Body Politics” in North America. Video art is the newest trend, and Donegan soon becomes known as a “video artist”, and invited to numerous international group exhibitions. She shows works at Aperto at the Venice Biennial in 1993, the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1995, and the Semaine Internationale de la Video in Geneva in 1997, where she receives the grand prize for her film “Line” (1996), now also on view at Kunsthalle Zürich. In 1997 she paints the large-format, 11-part series “Scenes + Commercials”, which she shows together with a film at the New York gallery Basilico Fine Arts. The exhibition receives harsh reviews, leading Donegan to destroy one painting and file away the remaining in a barn. Twenty years later they are now on view at Kunsthalle Zürich. Donegan’s career slows down, not lastly because gallery representation becomes complicated: Basilico Fine Arts shuts its doors, as do a number of other galleries that have come to represent the artist. This turns into an even bigger handicap as the art market is more and more seen not only as an important channel of distribution, but also as an endorsement machine. Whoever has success in the market is understood as relevant. Donegan continues to create low-fi films such as “Flushing“ (2003, also in the exhibition) and to paint, or rather, to “make” paintings. From 2009 onwards the works seem to mock the smooth and polished surfaces of the digital media era. It is art that presents itself as anachronistic and committed to the earlier do-it-yourself attitude. It might be described with the term “Provisional Painting”. Around 2009, Donegan starts experimenting with patterns appropriated from the fashion world, such as gingham and checked patterns. She scans textiles and utilizes web-based services, such as www.paom.com, to produce fabric by the yard. By declaring the resulting material to be canvas and stretching it onto frames, she obtains objects that purport themselves as paintings. A variation of this process has her commissioning clothes from the scans, something that is now possible for everyone, not only large-scale companies.
Info: Kunsthalle Zürich, Limmatstrasse 270, Zürich, Duration: 26/8-12/11/17, Days & Hours: Tue-Wed & Fri 11:00-18:00, Thu 11:00-20:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-17:00, http://kunsthallezurich.ch