STEPHANIE DODES & MARSHALL KORSHAK We Buy Gold

ALLEGRA LAVIOLA GALLERY | APRIL 25 – MAY 26, 2012

Stephanie Dodes and Marshall Korshak, Gold Collage, 2012. 22 × 30”. Collage on paper. Courtesy of the artists and Allegra LaViola Gallery.

Visitors to Stephanie Dodes and Marshall Korshak’s exhibition We Buy Gold at Allegra LaViola Gallery can watch the artists’ videos in a gallery space embellished with (fake) fur-covered walls, an extension of the excessive luxury parodied in their video “Bling Dreams.” In this video,three women dance to a hip-hop mash-up of hit songs by Khia, the Ying Yang Twins, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Lil Mama, Beyoncé, and others.

In “Bling Dreams,” Dodes and Korshak incorporate a hip-hop sensibility into their work—as several other artists have in recent years, including Luis Gispert, Alex Melamid, Kehinde Wiley, and Rashaad Newsome. Dode’s and Korshak’s work focuses on music video clichés, and the gaudy sensuality celebrated in songs devoted to sex and money. 

The women in “Bling Dreams” seem to dance with the earnestness of tweens or teens in their bedrooms imitating the movements and attitudes of their pop idols, a once-private phenomenon that is now itself a cliché on YouTube. The theme of mimesis, particularly the emulation of certain modes of feminine identity, manifests in other videos by the artist duo. Imitation as it occurs cyclically across various types of media is also a theme for Dodes and Korshak—an amateur musician becomes a pop star on YouTube with slickly produced music videos, which in turn inspire YouTube tributes.

At some points, the “Bling Dreams” dancers exaggerate the tough-girl sexuality of some female hip-hop artists and back-up dancers, in a way that verges on mockery. Their ironic distance from the affectations of hip-hop calls to mind the laugh-out-loud videos and performances of Adira Amram or the performance artist and rapper Leslie Hall, who sings the praises of gem sweaters and gold lamé pants over her outrageous original beats. But while Amram and Hall make hip-hop their own for comedic effect, the ersatz performances of Dodes and Korshak’s dancers make us feel uncomfortable. Do they aspire to the style and virtuosity of Beyoncé in “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (2008), or to the “sexy ass body” conjured by the Ying Yang Twins in “Wait (The Whisper Song)” (2005)? Or, as “real women,” do they challenge these varying propositions of a feminine ideal?

Behind the “Bling Dreams” dancers is a collaged backdrop of magazine ad imagery of gold- and diamond-encrusted jewelry. At intermittent points, an image of Scrooge McDuck bounces around behind the figures. A Disney character with the blended qualities of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie, Scrooge McDuck reinforces the perception of gold as a symbol of wealth. Those who remember McDuck from the late ’80s cartoon DuckTales surely retain the image of him diving into a vault of gold coins, literally swimming in his own money. The appearance of Chairman Mao in Dodes and Korshak’s video is equally bizarre in this context. Mao’s iconic visage floats by in the form of a gold bust, as if to pose a stern counterpoint to the excesses of unchecked capitalism and commodity fetishism.

In the video “Twins” (2012), Dodes and Korshak strike an entirely different tone from that of “Bling Dreams.” Two young girls stare out from the screen disinterestedly as two layered and echoing voice-overs, probably the girls’ own, read from a foreboding text, which is difficult to decipher but has strong existential or metaphysical overtones: “the bogus parody of what once came from the swell of simply being…Where are we going? What marvels of bone and pelt will be uncovered?”

Despite its thematic contrasts, the congruity of “Twins” with the rest of the exhibition is most apparentin the background, where a lush collage composed of fur and impossibly perfect hair is animated with kaleidoscopic movements. Shapes and textures move in and out of each other to form erotic visuals. The piece articulates what seem to be the intentions of Dodes and Korshak’s current show: to investigate the area in which sex and sensuality overlap with extreme wealth, and to highlight the contested position of women within that dynamic.

Contributor

Eve Perry

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