Vaginal Davis - AMERICAN AFRICAN AMERICAN New York Friday, February 8, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Adams and Ollman, Portland

  • Catalogue Essay

    Born 1969, Los Angeles, CA
    Lives and works in Berlin, Germany

    Selected honors: Queer|Art|Prize for Sustained Achievement (2018)
    Selected museum exhibitions and performances: New Museum, New York; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest; Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Rijeka; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA; Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria; Kunstverein Hannover, Germany; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Tate Modern, London, Southbank Centre, London

    Since the late 1970s, Vaginal Davis has been a trailblazing force as a genre- and gender-bending performance artist, painter, activist, musician, filmmaker and writer. Though Davis has always practiced painting, she presented her first exhibition of purely visual art in 2012. She brings to painting the same uncompromising politics, humor and resourcefulness that informed her artistic practice in the decades prior, an approach that has put her in the spotlight in past years, particularly following her inclusion in the critically acclaimed group exhibition Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon at the New Museum, New York, in 2017.

    “My paintings are kind of a feminine totem style. It’s all about female imagery, and female worship,” Davis explained of her so-painterly debut in a 2012 interview with Ryann Donnelly in Art In America. Positioning her works after a wide range of public figures, largely women of color, Davis transforms starlets and role models into iconoclastic creatures by employing the very materials associated with womanhood and femininity: makeup. Inventing an entirely new genre of “make-up paintings”, Davis pointedly uses cheaply functional materials to imbue her work with latent social currency: “When I first started painting I used my mother’s Fashion Fair cosmetics, a cheap drugstore makeup line for black women.” Wet n Wild nail polish, Aqua Net hair spray and perfume by Jean Nate are mixed with glycerin to varying chromatic and textural effect, coalescing into ghostly, abstracted, mythical figures.

    These works were paired to powerful effect with a sculpture by Louise Nevelson in the two-person show Chimera at the New York gallery Invisible Exports in 2017. Much like Nevelson, Davis breaks free from the social shackles of prescribed feminism. “The resulting forms suggest faces or masks, exposed intestines, genitals and knots of musculature,” Holland Cotter wrote in a 2015 review. “Bracingly feminist, prophetically anti-patriarchal.” Davis, who assumed her name as an homage to activist Angela Davis, got her start in the Los Angeles punk scene where she developed multiple personas and performed incongruous identities, notably revolutionizing drag. As Grace Dunham wrote in The New Yorker, her “political critique, simultaneously absurd and hyper-real, made Davis a muse to a generation of queer writers and critics…in particular, the way she interrogated rather than obscured her cultural otherness.” While Davis’s performances were bold and audacious, her make-up paintings are conversely ethereal and sensual, infused with sacred introspection.


(i) Misty Copeland (ii) Cyd Charisse (iii) Isadora Duncan (iv) Martha Graham (v) Jane Avril (vi) Raven Wilkinson (vii) Two Mary Wigmans (viii) Martha Graham in Serenata Morisca

(i) signed, titled, numbered and dated "VD 19 "Misty Copeland" Vaginal Davis 2018" on the reverse
(ii) signed, titled, numbered and dated "VD 17 "Cyd Charisse" Vaginal Davis 2018" on the reverse
(iii) signed, titled, numbered and dated "VD 27 "Isadora Duncan" Vaginal Davis 2018" on the reverse
(iv) signed, titled, numbered and dated "VD 24 "Martha Graham" Vaginal Davis 2018" on the reverse
(v) signed, titled, numbered and dated "VD 12 "Jane Avril" Vaginal Davis 2018" on the reverse
(vi) signed, titled, inscribed, numbered and dated " VD 20 "Raven Wilkinson" Vaginal Davis 2018 Berlin" on the reverse
(vii) signed, titled, numbered and dated "VD 14 "Two Mary Wigmans" Vaginal Davis 2018" on the reverse
(viii) numbered and titled "VD 29 "Martha Graham in Serenata Morisca"" on the reverse

each glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, coconut oil, perfume, water color pencil, eye shadow, rouge, foundation, nail enamel, lacquer, polish, Datura, Hamamelis, Wasser, Mandrake, Henbane, hairspray and Iberogast on found paper
(i) 11 x 8 in. (27.9 x 20.3 cm.)
(ii) 11 x 8 in. (27.9 x 20.3 cm.)
(iii) 10 5/8 x 7 1/2 in. (27 x 19.1 cm.)
(iv) 12 x 9 in. (30.5 x 22.9 cm.)
(v) 9 x 6 in. (22.9 x 15.2 cm.)
(vi) 8 1/4 x 6 3/8 in. (21 x 16.2 cm.)
(vii) 5 3/4 x 4 in. (14.6 x 10.2 cm)
(viii) 5 3/4 x 4 in. (14.6 x 10.2 cm)

Each executed in 2018.

Estimate On Request


New York Selling Exhibition 10 January - 8 February 2019