Skuja Braden: Pardon My Body and Strange Bargain are on view at kaufmann repetto, Milan and New York
Skuja Braden’s New York exhibition, Pardon My Body, can be seen until October 28, 2023. Their Milan show, Strange Bargain, is available for viewing until November 18, 2023.
kaufmann repetto is glad to announce the first solo show dedicated to Skuja Braden, pseudonym of the international collaborative duo Ingūna Skuja (Latvia) and Melissa D. Braden (USA). The artists, who represented Latvia in the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022, have been working in tandem for more than two decades, achieving an extraordinary craftsmanship in the complex medium of porcelain. Dense with multiple meanings and saturated with humor and wit, their elaborate sculptures populate an exuberant universe that amalgamates queer and feminist perspectives, autobiographical and cross-cultural references, transhistorical and political concerns. The artists’ debut exhibition with the gallery spans across both the New York and Milan venues, presenting two distinct yet interconnected projects.
Employing a material long marginalized and attributed to the realm of handicraft, the domestic dimension of the porcelain is constantly tackled by the witty, provocative richness of Skuja Braden’s imaginative repertoire. Western pinup aesthetics and Japanese erotica, tokens of mass consumer culture and iconic cartoon heroes, capitalist critique and Buddhist wisdom merge on voluptuously shaped vases, plates, and jars that are formed and glazed by hand conjunctly by both artists. The works are unified through the constant exploration, comparison, and juxta positioning of the separate cultures around the world through the lens of the erotic, exemplifying how the artists utilize the body to explore concepts and ideologies. Figures entwined in erotic poses, overtly challenging heteronormative gender expectations, are inspired by the emancipatory Shunga genre, a Japanese art form that flourished between the 16th and 19th century and encouraged sexual pleasure in all its forms, including female and queer sexuality. The patriarchal regulation of women’s bodies and the commodification of female production is another recurrent theme, as in the ongoing series Charity Collection, where pairs of female breasts are represented under the guise of commercial milk bottles, humorously advertising milk from all kinds of animals, such as dolphins, zebras, moose, leopard, and giraffes. Like in a medieval bestiary, fantastique and grotesque creatures appear throughout Skuja Braden’s practice, including swans and dalmatians, fish and serpents, amorphous sea monsters and even archetypes from pop culture such as Pink Panther and Minnie Mouse.
The New York presentation, entitled Pardon My Body, brings together works from Skuja Braden’s residency in California between 2001 and 2008, and from the last 15 years living in the countryside of Latvia. Reflecting on their personal experience of restricted bodily autonomy on different levels – inflicted by American immigration policy on the one hand and by Latvian homophobia on the other – the works are all related thematically and conceptually, exploring how the private and the public are intertwined. The different socio-political spheres of men and women in relation to power are effectively addressed in the double entendre of Cock Block, while women’s reproductive and sexual freedom are thematized in Still Life, a bouquet of bronzed tampons, as well as in Ball and Chain and Pocket Book, where a woman’s vagina is playfully represented as an egg. The ongoing series of Babies consists in large-sized sculptures acting as vehicles for multiple opposing ideas. Spanning more than two decades, these range from the early Flower Child – created out of a moment of distress upon Bush’s presidential election in 2000, partly supported by people who had been hippies in the 1960’s – to the recent Flower Power, a large lingam vessel covered in rafflesia flowers with vulva centers, where the simplified form of the phallus is subverted by turning it into a backdrop for the surrounding flowers.
Strange Bargain, title of the presentation in Milan, is an ironic statement about the paradoxical nature of commerce, and specifically about the ‘bargain’ as an advantageous purchase at an unexpectedly cheap price. Referring to the macro economic, exploitative principles of late Capitalism, but also to the art market itself, Skuja Braden juxtaposes Greed, a wall-mounted slyly smiling skull wearing a crown, and a new iteration of the Charity Collection, literally bearing in mind its reference to the principle of caritas, one of the seven virtues. “Charity is free, so how much can one pay for a collection of it?” ask Skuja Braden, “What if ‘greed’ sits right next to the collection? What is the price for ‘greed’?” Acting against the backdrop of this dilemma, the Milanese show features several works depicting two women lovers, a buxom blonde Marilyn Monroe and a seductive Geisha. They are Skuja Braden’s signature ‘action figures’ and alter egos, their fictive identity employed to investigate the absence of individual authorhood. Omnipresent throughout their practice, they enjoy love making but at the same time seem to perform the function of vigil observers of the plethora of thought provoking narratives that the art-makers unleash in their ebullient oeuvre.
Skuja Braden is an international artist collaboration formed in 1999 between Ingūna Skuja (b. 1965, Latvia) and Melissa Braden (b. 1968, California, USA). They live and work together in Riga. Skuja Braden represented Latvia at the 59th Venice Biennale (2022) and they’ve taken part of the Guangzhou Triennial in 2023. Their work has been exhibited internationally in solo exhibitions such as Karaköy, Istanbul (2023); VV Foundation, Pavilosta (2022); Rīga’s Porcelain Museum, Rīga (2013); Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland (2009); Museum of History and Art, Aizkraukle (2017, 2010, 2006). Skuja Braden’s group exhibitions include the Pera Museum, Istanbul (2023); Latvian National Museum, Riga (2023, 2022); Zuzeum, Riga (2023).
kaufmann repetto new york
55 Walker Street
New York – NY 10013
kaufmann repetto milano
Via di Porta Tenaglia, 7
- Skuja Braden, Pardon my Body, 2023. Installation views, kaufmann repetto, New York. Courtesy of the artists and kaufmann repetto Milan / New York. Photos by Greg Caride
- Skuja Braden, Strange Bargain, 2023. Installation views, kaufmann repetto, Milan. Courtesy of the artists and kaufmann repetto Milan / New York. Photos by Andrea Rossetti