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TARYN SIMON • Birds of the West Indies
Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA
February 27 - April 12, 2014
In a new exhibition of Fine Art, photographer Taryn Simon casts herself metaphorically in the role
of ornithologist James Bond, a man who in real life made an exhaustive study of Caribbean birds.
He was also the man whose full name novelist Ian Fleming lent to his fictional British secret agent, Commander James Bond.
Aping an authoritative role, Fine Artist Taryn Simon has created a large body of work and one that
is trying to appear scientific in its scope. She has assembled a methodical display of many of the actresses who have appeared in James Bond films and instead of showing them as they appeared
in the Bond films, Simon has asked them to sit for formal, very nobly lit portraits taken recently.
In defiance of the Bond women who did not agree with Simon's essay and chose not pose for her, Simon put empty black paper cutouts in place of new portraits. Symbolically they sit as if to say, I do not care about your feelings, I am putting you in my essay even if you do not agree with my essay’s stance and even though you said you do not want to be part of what I'm trying to say.
Subservient to these portraits, physically hanging directly below each one of them, Simon has offers up a portrait of the actual props used in James Bond movies. Portraits of fast cars, motorcycles, airplanes, guns and knives and other symbols of male aggression, competition and strength. But instead of nobly photographing them in light, Simon has literally condemned these artifacts to shadow as if to say: Do not worship these building blocks of heterosexual male youth but instead make love to this gallery of post-menopausal women.
In another room, Simon has placed dead ‘Bond birds’ lying tagged in cases as if they were old relics and specimens of a bygone era.
While Simon’s effort is clinical, somber and exhaustingly well executed, her message is also rather Aryan in its condemning view of the sexual fetishes of young heterosexual men, and in that rebuke the exhibition's whine manages to do something quite rare — it practices both misandry and misogyny at the same time.
And this is where the problem lies.
Because if a similar exhibition was wrapped around the orientation, objectification and sexual fetishes of gay men, or gay women, or straight women and presented to the public as if it was a new authority on the subject, it could be labeled contemptuous and contemptuous bordering on intellectually immature, and immature to the point that it perpetuates the idea that women believe they need to change men. That some type of men are not in fact - a poor choice some women make. Instead all men are objects who should be shamed publicly until they come around and fulfill women emotionally in ways they need — but are unwilling to do for themselves.
But perhaps the most misplaced aspect to Simon's essay on heterosexual male behavior is her suggestion that it's alright for women to relinquish responsibility for their own choices. That women can't see the difference between a man who treats them well and carrying on about the damaged bad boy they picked (you know, the elusive caricature of the type of man whose conquest represents the biggest proof of the power of female allure). Rather, Simon's exhibition suggests it's better for women to put on an exaggerated display in order to shame 'the James Bond bad boy' than it might be to move on and make a healthier love choice.
Overall, Taryn Simon’s conspiracy essay about straight men misses several key points. That human beings are, whether anyone likes it or not - mammals, and that there is a big distinction between what triggers heterosexual male LUST and the addiction that is needy codependent love. Additionally, marginalizing ALL men through this type of periscope is a flamboyant generalization at best, and one that suggests trying to tell others how to behave so that they fit your needs is an argument about TWO people when in fact it excludes the other party’s nature and desires entirely.
So rather than condemning someone for liking what they like, it might be more respectful for both parties to have the epiphany many people do when ‘things are not working out’ and move on to find someone with where your tastes lay.
Because in the end, not everyone has to like fast cars, guns, motorcycles or attractive young women - but it’s also OK that some of us do.
Taryn Simon's Birds of the West Indies was on display at the Gagosian Gallery,
Beverly Hills, California from February 27 - April 12, 2014.
Review is © Ron Barbagallo 2014
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Taryn Simon is an Angry Bird of the West Indies
© 2014 Ron Barbagallo
Photograph of the askew Gallery Entrance by Ron Barbagallo