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A few bites of feminist art

Something about that X chromosome led to art, and “Bitter Fruits” samples a ripe bushel.

Women know that apples have had a sour taste ever since we bit in and wound up being blamed for original sin. But when Altered Esthetics came up with the title “Bitter Fruits” for their recent exhibit, they definitely weren’t suggesting that feminist art has to leave viewers puckering.

Bitter Fruits

WHEN: Through Feb. 28
WHERE: Altered Esthetics, 1224 Quincy St. N.E., Minneapolis

“There’s a certain amount of anger in a lot of art by women,” points out co-curator Jeanine Kindlien. We’ve all seen it: women bound by rope, the composition zoomed in on, and the cuts on their skin; or women with pronounced collar bones gazing sadly out of windows. “Bitter Fruits” recognizes that this type of art carries many vital messages, but also remembers that women are the fertile sex, or as Kindlien puts it, “fruitful Ö of the earth.” Art about women can be a celebration of that prolific nature, and many of the pieces blend the two themes, creating complicated portraits that force beauty and desperation to pour a new light on one another.

From renaissance paintings to the sketching scene in “Titanic,” the archetypal mysterious woman pose was a naked figure lying on her side, her hair draped over one shoulder, possibly holding a bushel of grapes or a wine glass.

Painter Jehra Patrick brings us abruptly into the modern age with her quartet of portraits titled simply, “Girl One,” “Girl Two,” etc. Each displays post-pubescent girls standing in what can only be described as “MySpace poses.” In two pieces, girls hold cameras high above their heads, capturing their body in a flattering angle that might be reserved in real life for the perspective of a giraffe. Another girl stands jauntily with a camera held out in front of her torso, depicting the “I’m bored in front of the mirror pose” that we’ve all been guilty of snapping at one time or another.

But the artist does not judge these glimpses of narcissism harshly. Instead they are painted in all the trademark colors of a rainbow of Skittles, with the tacky sunspot on the mirror turned into a stream of digitized sparkles.

Male contributors were not left out of this exhibit and some added more than just their artistic ingenuity. Close attention to the labels of surrealist sketch artist Nicholas Schleif’s drawings reveals that they’re made of a mix of “charcoal, human ashes, and semen.” It was only after Kindlien had put up the drawings of naked men and women with the occasional fret board or microphone stand for a body part that she noticed the materials she had just been touching. “If I had known, I would have worn gloves,” she says with a laugh.

A darker series of frames by photographer Courtney Conk reveals women at various tasks, one of which is playing with a child’s set of “house” toys, including plastic vegetables and a tiny stove. In the lower right hand corner is a photo of a few bottles of foundation with a noose around them. In addition to hinting subtly at an inner turmoil underneath the daily doings of her subjects, it would also be a great counter to the foundation commercial that Jessica Alba stars in.

“I know what I want,” Alba says slyly, “foundation that matches my skin tone.” If only the ad would flash to the image of foundation bottles and a noose, we’d see exactly how far from the ex-“Dark Angel” most women actually feel.

No matter what your opinion may be of how women should be portrayed in art, “Bitter Fruits” will have something that speaks to you. As a whole, it is just as colorful as the produce section of a farmer’s market – enticing colors, sweet shapes and, occasionally, a few sour apples.

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