I am calling Ida Applebroog
from work and am whispering a series of questions into my cell phone, hoping my co-workers don't pay too much attention as I mumble words like "vagina," "Hannah Wilke
" and "sexual awakening" into the receiver. The eighty-year-old artist is having trouble hearing me throughout the interview, and graciously offers to change phones to accommodate the strained connection. But the disconnect is ultimately not due to technology—it's the gap between her relationship to feminism and my own.
Applebroog, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship winner, was also a subject of the PBS documentary series Art 21: Art in the Twenty-First Century
. Though born in the Bronx, she was a recent transplant to New York in the mid-seventies, frequenting places like Gordon Matta-Clark's artist-run restaurant, Food
, in Soho. During our interview, she joked about the sad state of her neighborhood, saying, "I'm still in Soho and I'm living in a shopping mall. When Victoria's Secret arrived I knew it was over."
Her work explores the dark side of gender politics—the area where communication fails or becomes something else than what was originally intended. Applebroog draws you in through her discomforting images of ordinary people and scenes; at times, you become an unwitting participant in the violence of the mundane and the absurd. In the diptych "Marginalia (dog with hat)
" (1994) a man holds a small dog which is bedecked in a slightly-oversize tiara, while the scene below depicts another man flinching, thumb on the trigger, as he points a gun to his face.
In the late 90s she showed a series of pieces based on Édouard Manet's controversial painting "Olympia
." In "Modern Olympia (after Manet)
", Applebroog erased the servant and created a four-panel fan of seven nude Olympias casually staring you down. Each model gazes straight ahead, confronting the viewer with two coal black eyes.
Her latest work, "MONALISA
" (at Hauser & Wirth through March 6), also reflects on a much-commented on painting
. Applebroog says, "If you took art history [classes] you saw the Mona Lisa. It was huge. I went to see it and thought 'Is that all there is?'"
Applebroog's version consists of a series of recently found drawings of her crotch, originally sketched in the late 60s. These drawings were then scanned and enlarged onto gampi paper—a surface that mimics the consistency of smooth skin—and stapled to the frame of a one-room house in the back of the gallery. She explained, "It was a certain period of my life and before I got into the tub I'd sit with a full-length mirror on the floor. It was before my own radicalization."