Marjorie Strider made her bones (and her curves) as a significant contributor to the Pop Art movement. Her entrée into the New York art scene in the 1960s started at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea where her woodcarvings of 3-D girls in colored bikinis showed beside Pop Art pioneers Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in The First International Girlie Show. The curved spatial portraiture and brazen bustiness in Strider’s works, then and now, are a meditation on taste—an invitation to walk the line between “how much is too much?” and “too much is never enough.” Strider’s in-your-face work both celebrated the truism that sex sells and impugned it at the same time.
But Strider’s relevance and vision are hardly limited to that moment when, as a woman, she made her bold mark on the male dominated milieu of pop. She continues to produce provocative work, a strong sampling of which will be on display this summer when the Lawrence Fine Art Gallery in East Hampton opens The Second International Girlie Show: Work by Marjorie Strider.
Few artists speak to the circus-like sexiness of summer better than Strider. In current works like “Low Tide” (2014) and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” (2014), Strider not only embraces the bikini as a false idol worth praying to, she takes full artistic ownership of it and in doing so, uses feminism to negate sexism with no apologies. “I believe you have to be a feminist if you are born female,” said Strider. “Who else is going to take all that crap? I guess I am more passive, except for my subject matter, which I believe says it all.” Both works are sultry without being slutty, using bright colors and soft curves to find that part of the cortex where salt, sea, sand and sex meet to create a visceral sense of summer heat.
With these two works, Strider may as well have coined the term “eye candy.” Sexuality is articulated in the paintings, but it’s filtered through a lens of cartoonish innocence. Strider’s exaggerations seem to say, “You can look, you can even touch, but don’t make a big deal over it.” The works articulate the truth that, on some primal level, we objectify each other (and our stuff) because it’s our default setting. People like shiny things because shiny things look good.
There’s a gender paradox at the heart of Strider’s work. Her early process of creating wood “build outs” (physically carving and shaping materials in a way that requires “real muscle”) frequently yielded decidedly feminine results. Her work in the 60s and 70s came about at a time when the lines between painting and sculpture were blurred, just as antiquated rules of gender specifics were being challenged.
She was bold in her use of new, strange and varied materials such as urethane foam, which she used to great comic and metaphorical effect.
Her piece “Soda Box” (1973) is one of many of her works that literally oozes plastic foam. It’s a wry twist on the notion of “art movement,” where function follows nomenclature and the works are no longer static, but rather overflow into physical space. It’s an aesthetic of kinetics that evokes the physical manipulation of paint employed by Jackson Pollock without the moody abstraction. Her oeuvre is simple and direct with a strong subliminal message: She whimsically uses the physical movement of odd materials to poke fun at our consumerist absurdity, our fascination with more.
The idea of “(over)flow” has returned in Strider’s current work. Her preoccupation with benign obsession and over-consumption is not focused solely on the female form. Simply put, she’s got a soda fetish and like Warhol, she uses store shelf iconography to extrapolate ideas of excess and commodification in our increasingly disposable society. Her new works “Amy” (2012), “Hot Mess” (2013) and “Overflowing” (2014) reinforce this sardonic message. All three pieces show our collective, commercial propensity for recklessness. In these pieces, Strider’s slow motion, hyper-animated corporate spillage of Coca-Cola and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee serve as a metaphor for our cultural indifference and macro-ennui. The overall message is a dry smirk at our ever-evolving artifice reminiscent of Mr. McGuire in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate pulling Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin aside and smugly advising/assaulting him with, “One Word. Plastics.”
Whether working with paint, wood or some sort of primal ooze, Strider’s core vision of objectification and consumerism consistently shines through. Hers is a big picture commentary on lust: Lust for stuff, lust for each other and lust for what’s next. But while the endless quest for bigger and brighter might seem linear, Strider brings a circular totality to these metaphysics. By fusing her process and perception, Strider shows us that Eve may have been borne of Adam’s rib, but without Eve, Adam had no raison d’être. In the end, her works remind us that we are of one mind, one body, one soul and one purpose: To desire each other.
The Lawrence Fine Art Gallery will exhibit Marjorie Strider beginning June 26. An opening reception will be held June 28 at the gallery’s East Hampton location, and an artist “meet and greet” is scheduled at Art Southampton on July 25.