The naked bathing woman, like the wine-and-bread still life, is one of those enduring standards of modern painting. Presumably it has been just a matter of multitasking necessity, as the artist likely consumes his subject after completing the painting. Naked bathers have shed their clothes in front of Picasso, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir and so many others. The bather got a major update in the sixties, in the hands of Tom Wesselmann, and now, as taken up by Carroll Dunham, the bather gets wet and nasty. Neither perverse not pornographic, Dunham presents the traditional bather subject as a straightforward, monumental picture of sex, undressed. Dunham’s bathing woman is not Venus, nor weepy muse, nor Nature personified; she is all tit and cunt, like an animal. The genitals are tightly cropped, depicted with energetic strokes in pencil, watercolor and oil pastel on small sheets of paper. These are sketches for large paintings, concurrently hanging at Gladstone Gallery in New York. Here, fifty or so drawings hang in clusters on the living-room and dining-room walls of artist Pamela Fraser’s home in Oak Park. It’s almost impossible to disconnect the setting from the subject; a single-family home on this broad, tree-lined residential street houses rough and ripe depictions of sexuality. To encounter each is an entirely intimate matter.
Published in Newcity (November 2, 2009)