Ellen Altfest’s White Cube exhibition ‘The Bent Leg’ grants viewers with intimate but uninspiring look at the male body
Ellen Altfest: The Bent Leg is the second White Cube exhibition by the New York-based artist, and represents the culmination of a series of works started in 2006.
The downstairs show presents us with a near-complete male nude fragmented into eight canvases, each granting an intimate view altogether too close for comfort – our noses shoved into the crannies of his armpit and groin, and onto the blobby landscapes of back, foot, hand, and torso. Upstairs Altfest exhibits a series of watercolours in a similar vein (pun very much intended).
Altfest revels in the hilarious and grimy indignity of the male body, from the bulgy veinedness of the phallus, to unspeakable forests of wiry-ringlet back hair. The intention of observing these sites in such isolated length and detail, we are told, is to make them ‘appear seemingly unfamiliar and disconnected’. But in this, Altfest has surely failed. These are unmistakably images of the male body, and only the most obtuse (or twee) of viewers could construe such abstraction. The pleasure in her work is, without a doubt, pure voyeurism, giving the hungry viewer the opportunity to look into those gruesome train-wreck crevices.
But, ultimately, while Altfest renders the near translucent qualities of the skin’s surface with considerably skill etc etc, something is missing; with the work as superficial as its fleshy content, there is nothing really to get your teeth into (unless you’re into that kind of thing). Until some artist-genius comes up with a radical new proposition, it must be about time that we draw a line under nudes – however you decide to crop them. The body’s gross: yours too; get over it. Words/ © 2011 ArtLyst