Thursday, November 29, 2018

Emily Mullin's Woman on Top

After viewing the larger than life topical-like drawings downstairs, Emily Mullin's show "Woman On Top" at Jack Hanley Gallery was refreshing and cleansing to all the senses. Starting with the show's title, Mullin takes the symbols of feminine domesticated life -- ceramics, floral arrangements, and interior decoration -- to a level of sophistication that elevates how these are not just hobbies but also forms of art. With the fresh flowers creating a fragrant atmosphere and whimsical colors awakening the eye at every turn, the show was more than a visual experience. The mounted shelf pieces had ample white space between them and allowed intimate moments that transformed when you looked at them in different angles. Mullin does not limit her art to one object but also integrates the gallery's walls and creates an illusion of flatness to three-dimensional ceramic vessels by extending the painting onto the white walls with continuing patterns. Her art's sensibility separates itself from a household craft. Her work alludes to so many points in history including ancient Egyptian ceramics, Cycladic vessels, the Bay Area during the 70s, and quirky patterning of the 80s. Garniture is the greatest piece that focuses on the relationships of color theory, with bright yellow-orange flowers and a blue brick design. The intensities of the colors vibrate against each other and meld the vessels in and out of the background space. Peinture Au Point breaks out of the frame of the shelf itself and expands its polka dots on the wall, creating a dizzying appearance of dots everywhere. The continuation of the art onto the gallery wall takes away from viewing the piece as mere decoration. Bananas is fun: a leaning small pot and bold squiggles wave from the pots to the borders. The asymmetry of the piece is not offputting and rather reflects the movement of the liveliness of the yellow blossoms. Mullin takes what was historically known as women's hobbies into an art form that requires intelligence and respect from its viewers as works of art. Just as the flowers are bound to wither and be replaced, the idea of what women are limited to changes with liberation.


  1. This was such a beautiful show! I enjoyed reading your detailed descriptions of the different pieces and your interpretation of the exhibition. It brought the whole show freshly back into my mind. While I agree that the wallpaper-like patterns behind the vessels flattened the whole installation, I find that the lighting of the show, which created these strong drop shadows of the flowers and the leaves onto the walls, brought everything back to three-dimensionality. Something that came to mind while I was walking through the exhibition and which might be worth mentioning, was that the individual pieces are fading together with the flowers, which probably need to be exchanged eventually. Therefore the whole show and every piece in it is constantly changing and developing and every visitor might have a different experience.

  2. This is a great, overarching review of a stunning exhibition! I think at first glance, this show could have seemed visually repetitive, but you did a solid job of negating that bias by speaking to the unique aesthetics and historical reference points of several different pieces. Though you begin your review by discussing how Mullin elevates objects that are stereotypically perceived as feminine (flowers, ceramics, etc.), it isn't until the very last sentence that you mention how the actual construction of these objects was once considered a "woman's hobby." I think this discussion of "art versus craft" is super interesting, especially in the context of gender relations, and my only wish is that you explored that a little more instead of briefly mentioning it at the end.