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Daily Art Moment: Vaginal Davis

“Vaginal Davis describes herself as a ‘doyenne of intersexed outsider art,’ working across, around, and between artistic disciplines: she is a performance artist, painter, curator, composer, writer, and musician. She is an originator of the homo-core punk movement and a genderqueer art-music icon. Interviewed by author Cyrus Grace Dunham, Davis said, ‘I don’t fit into mainstream society, but I also don’t really fit into ‘alternative culture,’ either. I was always too gay for the punks and too punk for the gays. I am a societal threat.’

The three intimately scaled portraits in the Museum’s collection at first glance seem quiet. But looking again, they loudly reject normative conventions. Davis has devised a new genre of ‘makeup paintings’ consisting of perfume, hairspray, nail polish, and various other beauty products associated with traditional femininity. Calling the works incantations, she coaxes a feminine/femme spirit to appear on the surface of repurposed business cards, matchbooks, and postcards. Potion-making relates strongly to her mother who made potions and elixirs for health and for luck. I love that these works defy the usual ways that curators think and write about materials and process.

Davis also told Dunham, ‘You can’t change institutions from the inside, as they always wind up changing you.’ This statement has me reflecting even further on the appropriation that white dominant cultural organizations so often exercise. It is an important call to resist this pull and create more space.”

Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Vaginal Davis (American, born 1969). The Waning Sex, Shining Hour, Only Yesterday, 2017. Watercolor pencil, nail varnish, lip stain, eye shadow, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel, coconut oil, cocoa butter, perfume, hairspray, Anacin Fast Pain Relief Tablets, Excedrin Migraine & Headache Tablets, Lydia E. Pinkham Women’s Compound and Health Tonic. Gift of Amy Adams, 2018.87.1-3