Blow Out, the title for Genesis Belanger’s second solo exhibition at the gallery, features all-new mixed-media sculptures as well as works on paper that narrate a metastoryline about high-living heartbreak. Belanger has fashioned three linked mise-en-scènes —a closeout sale, banquet hall, and operating room—turning the gallery into a Surrealist theatre. Each chamber is designed to dramatize an outtake on the title’s many-sided meanings.
Belanger’s practice at large is centered on the creation of sculptural objects and tableaux that perform narratives about gender and power. With subject matter informed by centuries of visual culture, from advertising and comics to art history, her magnetic and moody objects traffic in hyper-capitalist torment. She weaponizes glamour and humor to survey an image-possessed present. Her content and approach are informed by art movements, from the Baroque, Pop art and Surrealism, to Chicago Imagism, as well as her professional experiences inside the fashion industry. She hand-builds her objects from flat patterns carved out of clay sheets rolled out as a slab. Sometimes she combines them with furniture of her own invention. She never uses glazes but pigments her clay bodies with powdered tints whisked in with a kitchen mixer. Her palette is soft and honeyed and flaunts a midcentury air.
Over time, her installations have become more complex as her narratives have grown thornier. She composes spaces where time is suspended, intensified, and tangible, riffing on waiting areas, hospital rooms, funeral parlors, and banquet halls. Her vanitas symbolism spotlights aspiration and deceit to expose the hidden extremes dwelling inside everyday objects we consume, wear, and carry.
Visitors to Blow Out move through Belanger’s world building in discreet interiors designed to unfold like acts in an absurd play. The first scene is a deserted “discount store.” Three ceramic and powder coated steel sculptures impersonate a shopping cart, retail shelf, and vending machine—avatars for the bubbles and busts of the American dream. Ironically titled Healthy Living is a gleaming pushcart brimming with a surplus of phallic goods: a soda pop baring a writhing tongue, an open container of milk with a flaccid straw, a saggy asparagus bunch, a hot dog in a bun, and a potted cactus. Impulse Buy debuts Belanger’s latest experimentations in the studio: wall mounted dioramas with personalized cameos. Replete with handmade tiles, it parades condiments, sweets, and a woman’s manicured hand and shoe. The room’s centerpiece is a life-size bubble gum machine, Three for One. Its sunny demeanor masks a darker yarn about illogical aspirations and washed-up ambitions.
The next room reveals the debauched remains of a decadent party. A reposing nude in pieces lounges on a shapely upholstered teal chaise. Lavish flower arrangements, a succulent orange plant, and a pair of table lamps in a frilly chemise flank the extravagant mess of a spilled bowl of fruit sailing on a magic carpet. A dejected neurotic is personified in a sequence of wall-mounted dioramas resembling miniaturized stages that amplify Belanger’s scale shifts on repeat throughout the show. A downcast head and a hand clutching a shattered mirror is encircled by prescription drugs, deflated balloons, and fancy candies. A busted outlet overstuffed with king-size adaptors dangles a pair of fried wires. A chorus of four big-chested ladies, headless and prettily bloused, flank the room. Did they just leave the party or are they trying to get in?
"The sculpture Nude in Repose is a continuation of my series of severed feminine bodies, each made to capture the experience of being female in our culture where women are consumed as a selection of parts."
The third room possesses an even more sinister vibe. It is the office of a depraved plastic surgeon. A woman’s minced body parts, an uncorked champagne bottle, and a sectioned orange are scattered on a purple gurney. Pink straps loop slackly around her limbs. Sited on a nearby surgery table is an oddball cast of jokey and creepy items, a prickly plant, a tape dispenser wagging a frisky tongue, three prettified finger stubs, a wrench, and a jumbo molar. Behind a privacy screen, in alternating shades of blues and lilac, is a line of ladies in waiting. Their identities are almost entirely concealed except for the stylish footwear that protrudes out from under the curves of its substantial folds.
The exhibition closes with a series of animated and dreamlike watercolors and gouaches—Belanger’s latest foray into paintings on paper. Her process always starts with drawing. Her objects and settings are based on sketches she makes daily in graphite and ink inside bound notebooks and on loose paper. Each is set inside vibrant lacquered frames color-matched to eye-catching palettes. Their themes show off Belanger’s signature fem-pop glossary— high-gloss hands and feet, delicately shaded prescription pills, all- American edibles, and fleshy flowers—echoed throughout the exhibition.
What makes Belanger’s creations so disconcerting is their in-built humanism. Biases and stereotypes are trumpeted in objects choreographed in redolent vignettes that are characteristically relatable. A seductive conjuring that manifests life’s horror and splendor.
Amy Smith-Stewart, Chief Curator at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
Born in 1978 in USA
Lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, USA
Genesis Belanger stages psychologically charged mise-en-scènes composed of idiosyncratic versions of everyday objects. Working in a multitude of handcrafts — welder, ceramicist, and seamstress — Belanger conjures installations of unresolved tension on the edge of a temporal collapse. Her vocabulary is lifted from the 1950s, specifically from the dawn of American advertising, and she infuses her tableaux with a sense of lobotomized capitalist productivity, choosing liminal spaces, such hotel lobbies or office waiting rooms, as subject-matter. In Belanger's practice, the body is absent, inviting the viewer to enter as purposeful actor. In her immersive scenes, objects become surrogate for the female body: pursed lips emerge from matching stoneware lamps, fingers sprout from a bouquet, and a hot dog wiggles itself into a wedge heel. Belanger's three-dimensional work, although situated within the legacy of Claes Oldenburg and Robert Gober, is principally concerned with the manifestation of capitalist myths on a gendered psyche.
In 2021, Genesis Belanger was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Consortium in Dijon, France. In 2020, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, in Ridgefield, Connecticut dedicated a solo exhibition to her work and published a catalogue on the occasion. In 2019, Belanger created an installation in the New Museum’s Storefront Window, New York.