The Luxury of Guessing

By Hanna Hannah

October 23, 2008

Walking into the Michelangelo Gallery to view Andrea Borsuk's current show of paintings is like walking into a bazaar during a storm. The variously tenebrous winds set in motion the tinkling and jangling of an improbable display of jewelry and artifacts; we are temporarily distracted by the bountiful arrays and all the time anxiously aware of the dark rumblings outside. And as at a bazaar, the various paintings, like clamoring vendors, proclaim themselves with equal zeal in the high-pitched color palettes of, for example, European Rococo sugariness, Latino exuberance, East Indian spirituality, etc. It is impossible to decide which painting to "buy from": each is more enticing than the next with a mix of gaudy gorgeousness and kitschy hilarity. Borsuk"s handling of paint and articulation of imagery is as eclectic and far-ranging as the images she constructs. In these works, strings of pearls and a variety of delicate chains function as funiculi strung at dizzying heights over a variety of highly romanticized bravura landscapes while bearing a plethoric cargo of charms and baubles imprinted with a seemingly encyclopedic range of icons from diverse cultures and civilizations. Equally adept in the languages of Abstract Expressionism and the sleights-of-hand of European mimesis, Borsuk performs her paintings deftly like someone who revels in the perplexities, provocations, and paradoxes of her legacy as a painter. 

One of the works that serves as a lynchpin of sorts to the show as a whole is Luxury of Guessing providing as it does a panoply of disparate icons: a classical sculpture on the mid left evokes an intact Winged Victory, perhaps; a string of those elegantly androgynous Cycladic figures swings down towards the lower right; while cutting diagonally from lower left and evanescing up high to the right, an endless sequence of cameos depicting female forms in soft-porn poses—some from ads of previous decades, some in poses that we've seen countless times in movies, museums or art history books, etc.; while on the upper right Fragonard's exquisitely titillating girl on a swing hovers blithely over all on high. All of these charms or amulets hang precariously over an ominous-looking, gesturally-painted abstractionrecognizable earth in a state of primal ooze far, far below. 

The luxury of guessing, Borsuk may be suggesting, is perhaps not so much a luxe—all those lush jewels notwithstanding--as a state of excess. How do we even begin to sort through the multifarious forms and materials through which human behavior has expressed itself, and continues to do so with seemingly inexhaustible invention? How are we ultimately to take the sweetly painted little cameos of women at times pleasuring themselves (owning their bodies) or exposing themselves in ways that we have come to recognize as framed by the male gaze (women's bodies as commodities)? The co-presence of all those jewels and women's bodies—from the Venus of Willendorf to the Playboy girl types—would beg the issue of a feminist agenda operative here. But, however daringly close Borsuk brings us to this reductive kind of reading of her paintings, the most compelling aspect of this work is not an easily available feminism. Rather, Borsuk provokes by her picaresque approach to "the feminine adventure" throughout civilization; her "bazaar" of cultural constructs, and their uses and misuses as adornments, ultimately belies the ongoing primal storm of guessing...