This is Keith Farquhar’s first New York solo exhibition. Tim Nye’s Nyehaus gallery is housed in the National Arts Club, an institution founded in the 19th century by New York Times art critic Charles de Kay to promote the arts in America. Like a temporal Russian doll, the building recalls the past, the gallery the present, while Farquhar’s show imagines a future.
The historic atmosphere of the National Arts Club should serve as a perfect counterpoint to Farquhar’s installation, which envisions a future where femininity is dominant and revered above all. But in fact, the club admitted women artists from its inception. It is only in Farquhar’s version of the future that we find inequality.
He takes inspiration from the French author, Michel Houellebecq, whose novels are concerned with sexuality and science. Houellebecq’s novel Atomised, describes a world where science has made the male obsolete in the process of reproduction. The end of sexuality as a reproductive function would not signify the end of sexuality, but rather its evolution to pure pleasure.
Farquhar has a different idea, for him it seems to signify the separation of the female into the sacred and the male into the profane. In his installation, the genders are detached, spatially and emotionally. In ‘Atomised’ (2005) his creatures, constructed from jeans and white hoodies, crouch along canary yellow walls. These figures are soulless, drab and uniform, but clearly masculine. Towards the centre of the room, a totemic pile of the same innocuous white hoodies suggests the ordinariness of male DNA: it has lost its magic along with its purpose.
Seven neon ‘Vaginas’ (2005), picked out in primary-colour permutations, along with one in flesh tone, fill a separate gallery. They recall a similar installation by Jason Rhoades, ‘Untitled (chandelier)’ 2004, which comprises an exhaustive list of words for vagina writ in neon. Farquhar’s combination of elemental shapes and colours is particularly striking. It illustrates the idea of woman as exceptional, a truly evolutionary being, who is past, present and future—timeless, functional, and sacred.
Houellebecq’s pure pleasure is impossible in Farquhar’s interpretation. The separation of the genders into sacred and profane does not allow it. According to the French Sociologist Èmile Durkheim, author of the theory, their separation as opposing categories is the basis of their existence as categories. If they were to meet they would dissolve. That Farquhar has exalted woman to the status of sacred means that she is now untouchable. This inequality is dissatisfying for both genders— so, perhaps the inequality of this speculative future speaks for equality after all.
Victoria Miguel lives in New York