DRESSING FOR DINNER

Denver artist Linde Schlumbohm can't stop thinking about food--she's virtually obsessed with the topic. In What's Eating Eve?, her fourth annual exhibit at the Pirate co-op gallery, there are references to edibles everywhere: plants and animals, supermarket ads, fruits and vegetables. And there are corpulent women representing the many faces of Eve--whose sin, after all, was eating something she shouldn't have.

So the real topic of this show is not so much food, or agriculture's effect on the environment, or even the role of females as suggested by the biblical creation story, but rather an intelligent feminist critique of society's pressure on women to be thin.

The piece that launched the distinct groups of works on display is the mixed media on paper called "Adam's Temptation." In this composition, Schlumbohm incorporates in a crowded field of images Albrecht Durer's famous diptych of Adam and Eve, along with her own depictions of the snake and the apple. The snake, which slithers up the picture, is for Schlumbohm a symbol of sin. And, of course, there's the unavoidable anthropomorphic comparison to men's bodies. The apple, Schlumbohm says, is a stand-in for feelings and for food. (Is Durer's Eve fat because she ate the apple?)

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Durer's work shows up again in "Eve as Creator," but this time Adam is nowhere to be found. The inspiration for this piece and for the two other closely associated mixed-media works included here, says Schlumbohm, is a question: "What if Eve were in charge?"

The "My Education" series is even more pointed in its criticisms of the role of the sexes. These works on paper incorporate collage in the form of computer-generated photos and found advertising art, with acrylic paint that has been thinned out to create transparent glazes. In the autobiographical piece "My Education: The New York Years," Schlumbohm's fantasy of feminine perfection has become the reality of an eating disorder that, like the ability to sew, was practically a prerequisite for her graduate work in fashion design. (Schlumbohm's day job now has her designing men's ready-to-wear.)

In "My Education: Sacrament," a work about Schlumbohm's marriage, the measuring tape--a standard tool in the apparel industry--is the principal motif. The tape, Schlumbohm says, symbolizes her personal assessment that "a woman reaches a certain time when she's supposed to be married. And then there's the time when she's supposed to have a kid."

However, the measuring tape works better as a symbol than it does as art, a point demonstrated by two unresolved, wall-mounted installations of tapes woven into crosses. One of the more redeeming aspects of these works is the way Schlumbohm has abutted semi-pornographic images such as women clad in revealing lingerie with famous scenes from Catholic art like the Madonna and child.

Another wall-hung installation, "Scarlet Letters," is more successful visually and makes Schlumbohm's main point more clearly than do the others. A black cloth draped down the wall and onto the floor is covered by pieces of dress patterns made of card stock. On these markers, which resemble puzzle pieces, are pencil drawings of nude women. Placed over the markers are ladies' clothing labels like "junior," "XL" and "plus." For Schlumbohm, these sizes reflect the source of women's shame--the scarlet letters of the title.

Those who expect a cornucopia of food images in a Schlumbohm exhibit won't be disappointed, but they may be taken aback by the current collection's more overt political ingredients. "Several people have been surprised that this show is about feminist issues, but I've always been doing feminist-based work," Schlumbohm says. "People just didn't understand it. Since images of food have always been part of my work, people just assumed I was a vegetarian--which I'm not."

Those viewers may have been confused by the subtle approach Schlumbohm formerly employed. Those same ideas are expressed much more forcefully in this new crop of work, which cleverly indicts the oppression of women by linking religion, art history and fashion through--what else?--food.

 
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