Carla Magazine: Anna Park at Blum & Poe

December 9, 2022

Neyat Yohannes

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In her first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, Mirror Shy, Anna Park appropriates the visual language of mid-century advertising to consider the concept of agency—or, in some cases, a lack thereof. Her imagery recalls that which often accompanied Don Draper’s quippy dialogue in Mad Men, reminding me of a scene from the pilot. Sitting in a smoky restaurant across from a businesswoman he’d like to make a client, Draper boils down the essence of his profession in one smug line: “What you call love,” he says, “was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” Park puts a playful spin on this mindset, reflecting on the murky push and pull between self-exposure and voyeurism, and the cultural pressures that make it difficult to decipher the difference between subservience and bodily autonomy. 

Using ink, acrylic, and charcoal on paper, Park continues her usual seesaw between abstraction and figuration (leaning a little toward the latter), but the works in this show are a departure from the bleary tumult of past pieces, like Intermission (2021), which lent its frenetic cubist elements to a limited-edition cover of Billie Eilish’s album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? In frank works like Smells Like Roses (all works 2022), a pantsless woman—Park’s self-described alter ego, who appears frequently across this body of work—stretches her legs up in yogic plow pose as an immense, nefarious-looking, shadowy male figure looms over her. He appears to be inspecting her naked lower half; she holds a complacent smile on her face. Alongside the work’s title, this smile exhibits Park’s cheeky disposition toward otherwise thorny subject matter surrounding women’s bodies. 

This acidic humor, which consistently verges on the surreal, endures in works like Any Takers, which depicts a personified cigarette that looks like a buxom, faceless woman. The sexy white tobacco product starkly contrasts its black background, which features a checkered upper and lower border with tiny cigarettes floating in each square. The sardonic take on a magazine ad brings new meaning to the age-old notion that sex sells. Still, it’s the anthropomorphic hot dogs—which make several appearances in the exhibition—that summon the brassiest chuckle. 

In Sweet Nothings, a wiener man with a blank visage wears a distinguished hat and uses his human hand to pull Park’s alter ego into his chest for a warm embrace. She stares up at his expressionless face with a conflicted look in her eyes. The sausage as a placeholder for a male counterpart seems to point to the uneasiness around physical intimacy that most femme-presenting people have to some degree experienced (the constant negotiation between genuine desire and the fulfillment of expected roles, the perennial awareness of being perceived by strangers). In an act of vulnerable empathy, Park inserts a version of herself into these works, perhaps in an effort to become more impervious to the powers of sleazy advertisements and ultimately, to assert power over her body in the face of cultural surveillance (and entitled hot dogs). The hyperbolic scenes in Mirror Shy demonstrate the absurdity of navigating the wide and nebulous spectrum between self-empowerment and powerlessness. Agency isn’t so much hard-won as it is elusive.

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BLUM Los Angeles is closed for installation until Saturday, July 13.