Sexy Beet: Exploring deep-rooted meaning in the art of Sara Holwerda

by

comment

Beet, Sara Holwerda
  • Beet, Sara Holwerda
You wouldn't expect to walk into a show about sex and be most affected by a beet. Amid all the representations of pouty lips and perky breasts, there's no reason that a root vegetable should speak so strongly to sexual identity. And conversely, in any other context—say, hanging in the kitchen of your mom's sassy friend (probably near an oversized bottle of chardonnay and a sign reading "Dull women keep immaculate homes")—the beet likely wouldn't earn a second glance. But in a show that aims to explore the relationship between sex and commerce, this beet really hit me in the gut.

Entitled simply "Beet," the small painting is part of Sex Sells at Jackson Junge Gallery. Like every work in the show, "Beet" is accompanied by a placard that offers an interpretation of the piece as it relates to the exhibition as a whole. I never really like when curators do this because, beyond feeling a little didactic, it tends to limit the scope of the work. Whoever it was that interpreted "Beet" reads it as an instance of the female body being overtaken by the products it represents. I suppose I could see that—Fiat's American ad campaign has relied heavily on giving its product sexy, corporeal form—but I can't think of many examples of women being exploited by the beet market. For me, there's something in the physicality of the figure that speaks to something much larger than advertising. I see "Beet" as the dichotomy that is the modern female existence.

"Beet" was painted by Chicago artist Sara Holwerda and as it turns out, physicality figures prominently in her work. She was a competitive figure skater for years and now devotes much of her practice to examining the ways in which women are expected to perform. That's apparent in "Beet": the figure, which appears to have the legs of a showgirl, is actively pulling away from something unseen. It's also evident in one of Holwerda's performance pieces, Chair Dance II, in which she is by turns empowered, impeded, and imprisoned by a prop meant to enhance her sexuality.

I struggle with sexuality all the time, never quite sure how to use it, when to use it, or whether to use it. I never really know if my own sexuality is a genuine expression of some deep inner truth or a social construct, a behavior I've learned. I don't want to use it as a way to advance myself, but I understand that I can and sometimes do. And because I'm ever conscious of sexuality and its implications in my life, I tend to repress it when it feels natural and evoke it when it feels forced.

Maybe that's why of all the pieces in the show, "Beet" spoke the loudest to me. I see it as a struggle between the authentic and synthetic self, between organic and manufactured behavior—and the constant battle to differentiate between the two.

Sarah Nardi writes about visual arts on Tuesday.

Add a comment