Having recently been on display at Mrs. Gallery in Maspeth, Queens, NY, “Too Bad for Heaven, Too Good for Hell” by Brooklyn-based artist Rose Nestler is an engaging collection of mixed media works that transports the viewer to an enchanting realm of fables and folklore—and the role of the gentler sex therein.
We encounter a range of traditional femme signifers—velvet, tulle, high heels, ruffles, flowers, candles, even broomsticks. Some of these could be said to refer to the womanly abilities of luring one into a soft, slow, comforting, relaxing space existing beyond the rush and anxiety of a masculine-dominated society. Other elements of the exhibition point to a more otherworldly magic and mischief exuded by the feminine personality.
The title playfully defies clear distinctions of right and wrong, black and white, good and evil. It is like a badge of honour that each artwork could wear with pride.
Mrs. Gallery elaborates on individual pieces: “Each work in the exhibition is freighted with personal and cultural allusions, all embedded within Nestler’s rich material language. In Three Tongues, lush red velvet curtains frame a petite stage, a series of lapping stone tongues take the place of the orchestra in the pit. In The Therapist (attributed to Magritte), wooden shutters open onto a window muntin which imprisons a leather clad torso, its conical breasts bisected by the grid become toothless mouths, one chomping on a soft cigar. A taunt to Freud, they goad classification.
“Spun Out, a frenzy of fleeced neoprene, tulle, foam, Ultrasuede, wood and cork, has all the drama of pioneering modern dancer Loie Fuller. The sculpture resembles a spinning skirt, pinned at the center with a cork stopper and ringed by a parade of red high heeled feet. As much as there is joy and inhibition (the dance, the uncorked red wine of it), there is also something manic, something more sinister. Referencing Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes, it is hard not to see the amputated ever-dancing feet of the original grim fairy tale. The Red Shoes is a warning to girls: don’t be vain, don’t indulge in your impulses. Step outside of expectations and be brutally punished.
“In Nestler’s practice, she approaches each piece from a place of intuition, discomfort and thorough research. “What is it about fairytales we’re drawn to?” she asks, “why does this feel trivial, or even embarrassing?” In the centre of one sculpture—Lift and Tuck—we see the familiar maiden/crone visual illusion. This judgmental cousin to the duck-rabbit puzzle is sand blasted onto a mirror and mounted under drawn-up satin skirts, at exactly the viewer’s crotch level. As we choose to see the figure as an old or young woman, we recognize that seeing is a choice. These plays of perception and interpretation are at the heart of Nestler’s deeply feminist sculptures.”
References are also made to the Celtic goddess Brigid and Rachel Ruysch (1665-1750), a Dutch still-life painter. Much like myths and fairytales, the exhibition—with its timeless themes of feminine mystery, seduction, spell-casting, a certain rebellion and power—operates in an arena that exists outside our standard 24-hour clock.
Born in 1983 in Spokane, WA, Rose Nestler holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and BA in Art History from Mount Holyoke College. She has exhibited in the US and internationally. Venues include Public Gallery, London, UK; König Galerie, Berlin, Germany; Projet Pangée, Montreal, QC, Canada; BRIC, Brooklyn, NY; Hesse Flatow and Perrotin, New York, NY. Nestler was curated into two-person show at Spring/Break in 2019 and was a Lighthouse Works Fellow in 2018. She will be an artist in residence at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans later this year. This is Nestler’s first solo exhibition with Mrs. Gallery.