Astonishing beyond whatever normal belief might seem to be is “Fluttering Still,” the exhibition of ten new paintings by Angela Fraleigh.
What: Angela Fraleigh, “Fluttering Still”
When: February 10—March 12, 2021
Where: Hirschl & Adler Modern, The Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, NY
Women, the principal subjects of the works on view at Hirsch & Adler Modern, were described by Huffpost’s Priscilla Frank as “facsimiles of the painted muses rendered by the so-called “old masters,” specifically those who created Baroque and Rococo paintings in the 17th and 18th centuries.” Indeed, we feel in an entirely different age when surrounded by these beauties of a former epoch, doing their erotic manifestations unperturbed by any modern sensibility or shaming. What is intensely peculiar and ground-snakingly dissimilar to anything around us is the way in which these women coupling are so powerfully unaware of the observers we are. No way are they seeing us, and their power is in no way ours. No male gaze around — in this gallery or this art.
These paintings borrow, not from us, but take their titles from poems the artist has found, already interesting for those of us who spend our lives with poetry. And they borrow not just from the baroque and rococo painters, with their old masters and mistresses, but from such decorative mediums as Ethel Reed’s endpapers for books such as Gertrude Smith’s “Arabella and Araminta Stories” of 1895, thus bringing yet another epoch into our own. Here are scrolls and bloomings and flowerings and swooping moon outlines — enough doublings and repetitions of those borders and edges and lines to delightfully ornament the women’s gazes and longings, which, in principle, might modify our own. Ethel Reed’s work for “The Yellow Book” (how Aubrey Beardsley can you get?) swarms around the magazines she inhabited and imbibed, marking indelibly the longing that is manifested everywhere on these walls, displaying the hangouts and hangups of women interacting and playing out in their groovy garb and doings.
All the more so, since one of the juiciest references—most prominently traceable throughout Fraleigh’s work, titled “A Pang of Vivid Light” (2021), is to The Danish Girl, in its book and film presentation of Gerda Wegener. Wegener, whose spouse Einar was urged by Gerda to don stockings and high heels to replace an absent model, became so enamored of this sex change that he underwent surgical reassignment. From then on, he was Lili, was even engaged to a man, but, alas, perished a year after the surgery. Such a model model! The Centre Pompidou in Paris has three of Gerda Wegener’s paintings, while no Danish museum has succumbed to the spell. In fact, the Danish King annulled Gerda and Einar’s marriage — royalty above sexuality, we assume.
In any case, a lot of stuff is rushing about the observers’ imaginations as, for example, one woman dangles a kind of needle over the flesh of another to awaken her to the world and, presumably, to sex. The knees of a rococo beauty appear on the right, or, in another painting, just a foot stirs from under an elaborate dress gown…erotics never had it so good, we might think, as everything about this art and its over-the-top vibration causes our imagination to flutter still.