Nancy Davidson: Dustup at Betty Cuningham Gallery
September 6 – October 6, 2012
Not red, yellow and blue, but pink, yellow and blue—the primary colors of cowgirls – are the hues of Dustup, Nancy Davidson’s floating sculpture that dominates the back room of Betty Cuningham Gallery. It is startling how different red is from pink. Add a touch of white to the robustness of red and arrive at the froufrou insignificance of pink. But here pink is emboldened. After all, what could be more daring than filling a room with the voluptuous lower curves of three cowgirls?
The work’s six inflated spheres allude to boobs, balls and butts. Three sets of over-sized legs protrude from their periphery—color coordinated and clad in cowboy boots—as the whole hovers improbably above a sawdust covered floor. To keep their shape and remain airborne they are pumped with air from a compressor. The continuous activity of being filled mirrors their visual plenitude, where each crevice swells, every curve expands and all cylinders are engorged. The ample forms almost exhale satiated desire. Many F-words come to mind: the Floating cowgirls are Filling themselves up and are simultaneously Full; Fulfilling and Fulfilled at the same time; and let’s not forget Fun and Feisty.
The larger than life forms expand to practically burst at their seams as if they had consumed all they desire. Like the Rabelesian giants, Pantagruel and Gargantua, these three characters take great and simple pleasure in abundance, luxuriating in physical need. Their appetites are unbridled by guilt and unharnessed to social niceties. Whether they’re brawling or dancing the night away, there is no morning-after penance to this dustup. These vulgar, randy gals embody a hearty resistance to Puritan renunciation and Christian guilt.
The balloons of Dustup could easily drift away and disappear into the ether, but their energy is held in check by the downward pull of the work’s tethers. The reins perform a balancing act, gently tugging the sculpture back towards earth, and survival. The danger of escape is not the only threat, the balloons could also explode from the internal pressure of air or popped from a sharp intrusion. But the vinyl coated nylon contains the potential violence of explosion.
Ultimately Dustup navigates a balance, one reflected in a character unique to the American Frontier: the cowgirl. The “cowboy” in “cowgirl” is wild yet masterful – the right-wing fantasy of the independent, resourceful, individual conquering the wilderness. But the “girl” in “cowgirl” adds another slant that is more exuberant and playful, a counter-tension that seeks to harness excessive testosterone. Fearlessly, the “cowgirl” tames the wild beast, but is untamed herself.
Is the work a social critique, an ironic re-presentation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade of inflatable, commercial comic figures? Or is Dustup the embodiment of a Alan Greenspan’s concept of “irrational exuberance,” warning us of the impending self-destruction if we are too overzealous? Will such exuberance end with the loud, catastrophic pop of cowboy capitalism or lead to a spike in the creative vitality