What is it with male art school professors inventing fictional female artists? A few years ago Joe Scanlan (now director of the Program in Visual Arts at Princeton) created Donelle Woolford, a black female alter ego making cubist wood collages. He hires actresses to play her for photographs and public appearances—at a Guggenheim symposium last year, she gave a rousing rendition of the final episode of Richard Pryor’s short-lived TV show.
This summer, painter Sam Messer, associate dean of the Yale School of Art, is curating a group show at Fredericks & Freiser gallery that masquerades as a retrospective of work by the fictional artist S, whose biography was written for the show by author Jonathan Safran Foer. S’s life unfolds over the course of Foer’s ten wall texts, beginning in 1964 with juvenilia from the precocious young artist, followed by S’s move to New York at twenty-one, her sex paintings from the 80s, which gave the artist her first taste of public renown, and her final paintings from 2010.
Ten artists each responded to one of Foer’s wall texts, and Messer told Gallerist that they haven’t seen each other’s contributions, making this the exquisite corpse version of a retrospective. He does know that artists are submitting either new work produced for the occasion or old work from the appropriate years in S’s life. The show includes work by Francesca Lo Russo, Josephine Messer, Judith Linhares, Njideka Akunyili, Caitlin Cherry, Chie Fueki, Rochelle Feinstein, Natalie Frank, Jackie Gendel, and Jennifer Packer.
As befits a summer group show, the whole thing is more whimsical and low-key than the other fictional artist of the moment, Henry Codax, a character from the novel Reena Spaulings who has mysteriously begun exhibiting internationally and even appeared at auction, though no one has publicly admitted any association with the paintings.
Retrospective of S runs June 21 through July 27. The Opening Reception is June 21, 6:00-8:00 p.m.