Two for the Price of None: Gertrude Stein and Supermodels

Currently on the same floor of 745 Fifth Avenue, two galleries are showcasing works that speak to the feminine mind. Hilary Harkness has a collection of paintings on view at Mary Boone Gallery that follow a narrative of the relationship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Down the hall, at Edwynn Houk Gallery, is a selection of black and white photographs of celebrities, all shot by the famed Herb Ritts.

I first came to 745 Fifth Avenue to view the solo show of Hilary Harkness. Having never seen her work before, I entered the single room space hoping to be impressed. I was not disappointed due to the artist’s Old Master skill and tenderness to the subject matter, lesbianism in the 20th century.

Each painting could fit inside a tote bag and it was this intimacy that created the romanticism of her collection. Harkness filled each piece with impeccable detail. She was able to render the texture of a rug with the same skill of Vermeer. Her paintings are meant to be studied, as she includes important information that should not be missed. For instance, Gertrude Stein is depicted in interiors that are packed with symbols that represent who the woman was during her lifetime. Beyond her notable status as a poet and writer, Stein was also an avid art collector who created strong relationships with the painters she admired, such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Harkness did her homework and snuck in realistic portrayals of the pieces Stein collected. I particularly enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the colorful Women with a Hat by Matisse and Gauguin’s Two Tahitian Women.

The artist paints the two lovers, Stein and Toklas, enjoying their posh life, full of parties and the love they shared. Ultimately, Harkness gives the viewer a glimpse of lesbian life inside WWII Paris. She is able to demonstrate the sexual connection the two women shared but also the issues of being gay during a tumultuous time. It is apparent the out artist is representing the uncomfortable feeling of being gay in a society that is unwilling to accept, something lesbians are still facing today.

Down the hall from Mary Boone Gallery, I wondered into Edwynn Houk and fell into naked supermodels. It was a sticking difference from the haunting feeling I had experienced minutes before. Herb Ritts has always been in my top 10 list of great photographers and I was overjoyed by my random discover. I adore an artist who strives to create beautiful things, and Ritts fits the bill.

The photographs featured in the exhibition are taken from the Herb Ritts Foundation and honestly should be housed in a museum. The iconic clump of models, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatyana, Naomi is breathtaking to physically see in person. Then I turned my head to see Madonna grabbing her crotch, and further down the line, I see Michael Jackson in a performance stance. Ritts was a master at offering the viewer glamour, nudity, and beauty to be gazed at with no shame.

I suggest whoever is reading this take the journey to 745 Fifth Avenue to view these two drastically different shows. As always, galleries welcome all visitors free of charge.

Hilary Harkness: New Paintings
May 5, 2011 – June 25, 2011
Mary Boone Gallery

Herb Ritts
April 28 – June 25, 2011
Edwynn Houk Gallery

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