Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York presents As Object, an exhibition of photographs with watercolors, video, sculpture and collage by artist Pam Butler, curated by Leigh Ledare.
Pam Butler’s work explores the nuanced ways in which images reflect cultural coding and social structures. She focuses on the caricatured generic image, where stereotypes and their social myths become exposed. Through repetition, Butler highlights the need for conformity that lurks below our conscious awareness. Her work digs into the inherent contradictions and barely hidden absurdities that lie within our social norms.
In 2000 Butler painted a series of small watercolor paintings based upon the promotional images of Miss America pageant contestants. In 2001 and 2007 she attended the Miss America Pageant, as well as the New York State pageant in 2005 and the Miss New Jersey pageant in 2016. At each event, she photographed the contests from her seat in the audience. The resulting work presents a unique perspective on the pageant’s display and the systemic judging of young women. In this project, as in Butler’s work at large, we are shown the importance and performative nature of cultural norms and the conventions that hold them in place. We can feel how tightly this hold grips us when we consider how these symbols are being used as flash points in our current precarious political moment.
In As Object, curator Leigh Ledare has worked with Butler to explore these pageants and how it reflects back on the art audience through the map of its parts. The contestants can be seen as interchangeable representations of social ideals. The stage is the culture shown through spectacle. The judges stand as arbitrators of each contestants’ relationship to the female ideal. The audience is the participants, both in the fans at the pageant and the art viewer at the gallery. The artist is the translator of the social conformity as represented through these pageants. In the exhibition the contestants, as replaceable repeating variations on a social stereotype of beauty, are seen in the watercolors. The judges privileged voyeurism is revealed in Contestant Reflected Judges’ Gaze, where the judges appear to almost be looking up a contestant’s skirt. The spectacle, with all the cracks in its carefully constructed façade, is on display in the videos and collages. The fans stand expectantly in line for the after-party event in Fan Line Miss NJ, holding the placard for their favored contestant. In the middle of it all we find one of Butler’s Cone Girl figures, set on a mirror and turning in a circle.
Shortly after graduating from SVA’s MFA program in Visual Art, Pam Butler gained attention for her street art postering. In particular, her work ‘Good Girl Project (92-95)’ received recognition. In 2010, the project was revisited and expanded on for “The Good Girl Book”. In 2015 Butler was awarded a Gottieb Foundation individual artists grant. Other grants and awards have included a Maria Walsh Sharpe Foundation Residency (2012), Virgina Center for the arts (1998 and in 1997 a N.E.A. supported residency), Atlantic Center for the Arts (2012), and NY Foundation for the Arts artist fellowship in drawing (1997). Butler’s work has been shown in solo and group shows in New York City and internationally since 1991, including at White Columns, Cue Art Gallery, Artists Space, Moscow Contemporary Art Center, Hallwalls, Scotland Street Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum, among others. Butler has recently been publishing a magazine based around her work in photography, drawing, and social commentary entitled Lotion.
Leigh Ledare’s multidisciplinary work utilizes photography, the archive, text, and film. Born in Seattle, Washington in 1976, Leigh Ledare received his MFA from Columbia University in 2008. His work has been widely exhibited in solo surveys at Kunsthal Charlottenborg (2013); WIELS, Brussels (2012); and at The Box, Los Angeles (2012); Pilar Corrias, London (2012); The Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture, Moscow (2010); Les Rencontres de Arles, Arles (2009); and Rivington Arms Gallery, New York (2008). His work has appeared in group shows at Metro Pictures, New York; Shirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2012); PS1/MoMA, New York (2010); Swiss Institute, New York (2009); and Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2008). This fall Ledare’s show “The Plot” opens at the Art Institute of Chicago.