As I heard the words of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey in the background one phrase stood out as I made my way through Adamson Gallery exploring Laurel Nakadate’s recent work Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind – “she’s got a wonderful sense of humor.”
That is also the limit of the work, on exhibition through June 3rd. The most interesting portion of this body (no pun intended) of work is contained in the first sentences of the press release and artist statement, wherein the artist embarked on a thirty day cross country train ride. The rest of the work can be summed up in well composed and designed photographs that attempt to be a little transgressive and yet remain impersonal, sterile, and narcissistic.
Placed in hotel rooms and the cabin of her train, Nakadate poses in her panties in the pseudo seductive poses found in Playboy. The sense of seduction becomes lost in the environment of polyester fabrics and overcast skies. When her gaze addresses the camera it never seems inviting or overly confrontational, but kind of bored. Color is muted and subdued leaving a mostly uninteresting photograph of a mostly naked woman in a mostly non-descript room.
And with this being the dominant theme of the show, there is work that rests out of place. The artist mostly naked on the back of a horse and the artist mostly naked somewhere in the desert come to mind. The color is rich, but the themes are out of place. Then there are the wonderfully graceful close-ups of the artist’s panties as they dangle from the window of her train (described in both artist statement and press-release). These are by far the strongest works on exhibit. They are elegant against the backdrop of a dreary sky. But the consistency of the overcast skies makes the narrative feel forced. Then there is the police car in the background of one photo, the looming threat of order and control, the push for transgression, and the inconsistency of thesis.
Qualms can be raised about the video as well. Her dance on the porch of the home from American Gothic is witty – a strip tease dance without the strip-tease on the unrequited reflexive emblem of American innocence. Then the song changes along with the video: artist seated in the cabin of her train, eyes searching the horizon wildly for a passing pick-up truck so that she can flash her tits mischievously and giggle, only to scope the horizon again.
What is apparent is the utter senselessness this work has. There is no goal within the work, no sense of discovery, no sense of the country, no sense of self and - dare I say - no sense of art. Any argument about sexuality or the female gaze become pointless in the face of this work – it isn’t there! It doesn’t even try to be shocking for the sake of being shocking (except maybe the sticker price of the work). It is the documentation of a wasted cross-country trip and abandoned underwea