Artist Lisa Yuskavage challenges landscape painting and viewers may be delighted.
Lisa Yuskavage, “Tit Heaven 21,” 1992, watercolor on paper, 30 x 22 in.
Lisa Yuskavage emerged as an art star in the late 1990s for anatomy-inspired paintings of buxom and cartoonishly contorted nude women. This star-making body of work led the New Yorker to describe Yuskavage in 2012 as “the notorious painter of preposterously pulchritudinous women.” Artforum, in 2000, put it more bluntly: “She is all T&A.”
But a major new solo exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum is challenging those reductive views and offering an alternative reading: Lisa Yuskavage is a landscape painter.
This show, curated by former Aspen Art Museum Director Heidi Zuckerman in a collaboration undertaken with Baltimore Museum of Art Director Christopher Bedford, asks viewers to look beyond the bodies and into the artist’s inventive work in landscape.
Titled Wilderness and co-organized with the Baltimore Museum of Art, where it will travel from Aspen, it selectively surveys three decades of Yuskavage’s career with a keen eye on the backgrounds. There, the artist has imagined lush jungles and visions of Eden, as well as dystopian depictions of hellfire-scorched vistas and distant blue skies viewed from high-rise windows. And she’s sensually merged landscape itself with the female anatomy in her “Tit Heaven” series where breasts bloom alongside flowers in a misty and verdant scene.
“I realized that they had to be very personal landscape paintings,” she said of her early experiments in landscape. “There had to be something about them that was true to me, that couldn’t be generic.”
The process of putting the show together made Yuskavage take a closer look at the worlds she’s created in the backgrounds of her paintings. Thinking about her work in this way actually led to a new painting, included in the Aspen show. She described the in-progress piece as “a whole new way of looking at the idea of landscape painting” during a talk at the museum in August 2019, when she received the Aspen Award for Art. “It’s new for me in that it’s rather ‘meta,’” Yuskavage explained in December, once the new painting was complete.
The piece depicts an interior space with still-life objects, but on the wall of the room inside the painting hangs a landscape painting, which observant viewers may notice is a blown-up section of the sweeping green mountainscape in her “Given and Nel’zahs,” also included in the Aspen show.
Seeing Yuskavage’s work through this new lens has the potential to reshape the way critics and the public view the artist, and how she looks at her own work. “The jury is still out as to how this will influence me,” she says. “I am more interested to hear how this will influence other people, especially artists in the future.” Free admission, Feb. 16-May 31, 637 E. Hyman Ave., aspenartmuseum.org
Photography by: Lisa Yuskavage courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner