In his piece Vaginal Davis as Vanessa Beecroft Vaginal Davis revisits the work by Vanessa Beecroft, an art-world star most known for her "installations" of scantily clad female fashion models and fully uniformed U.S. Navy SEALs. Her work (often supported by corporate sponsorship) finalizes the marriage of art and fashion, and renders visible the libidinal dynamics of art consumption: gorgeous bodies served up to paying customers under the guise of aesthetic contemplation and enjoyment. In VD as VB Davis, dressed and coiffed just like Beecroft, reading from his handbook of military conduct for marines, calls a small crowd of carefully chosen young men onto the performance area. Unlike the state-approved pressed and manicured men of Beecroft's "U.S. Navy," Davis's boys are soft, skinny, rumpled, floppy-haired aspiring bohemians. While boys are taking place on stage Davis/Beecroft boast, again and again, about having been invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial and iterates that her work is "trademarked and registered, copyrighted by me Vanessa Beecroft of the Vanessa Beecroft brand and entitlement. All rights, privileges, and responsibilities therein reserved."
The differences between Beecroft's and Davis's work are obvious. Beecroft is a white European woman whose career is covered by Artforum and Vogue - magazines explicitly invested in the reproduction of the culture of luxury. Davis is a black drag queen, a "grande dame" of the queer underground in Los Angeles, who took her name as homage to Angela Davis, the radical activist who was associated with the Black Panther Party. Art, as understood by Davis in her citation of Beecroft, is a form of class warfare. With VD as VB Davis positions himself in a critical, dialectical relation to the institutions of the art world as they are expressed in Beecroft's work.
As Prof. José Munoz has detailed in his own writing on the artist, Davis's drag is a carefully staged performance of disidentificatory practices. Unlike "commercial drag [who] presents sanitized and desexualized queer subjects for mass consumption, Davis adopts a "guerrilla style" that functions as a ground-level cultural terrorism, performing the nation's internal terrors around race, gender, and sexuality." Davis's gravitation toward Beecroft's work with the military allowed her to take on a range of these "internal terrors" simultaneously.
For Davis, Beecroft's work is an attractive target because it is an ethically ambiguous homage to the most regressive impulses in art. This is especially true of her work grounded on the explicit display and objectification of women's bodies. Models lined up in rows at the Guggenheim in Gucci bikinis and high heels are subjected to awkward inspection by art connoisseurs. Beecroft's performances appeal to the particular arrangement of guilt, shame, and ambivalence that hovers over "Art" as a social institution. These mixed feelings are often allegorized in the display of the female body-in which a woman's alienation from her own sexuality stands in for art's final compromise to the logic of the marketplace. The women are instructed, in fact, to adopt exactly the posture described by William Dean Howells and Frank Norris in their essays on writing and the market, or the posture of Warhol's hustlers: they are not supposed to make eye contact or interact with the audience; they should look bored, distant, aloof, but somehow, nevertheless, available.
VD as VB - Erdgeist, Earth Spirit #27-29 10827
Kapelica gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia
June 21, 2007
Author and performer: Vaginal Davis
Video: Janez Janša
Music: Tim Blue (the Cheap Kollective, Berlin)
Producer: Marcela Okretic
Production and organization:
Aksioma - Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana
in collaboration with Kapelica gallery and the Festival Mesto Zensk
Realized in the frame of the platform RE:akt!
Supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia
the Municipality of Ljubljana
the European Cultural Foundation