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Just the three of us by Shona McAndrew at Art Omi

Last Updated: 07/06/2021 3:23 pm
click to enlarge Shona McAndrew, Just the three of us (installation view). Papier mache. - PHOTO BY BRYAN ZIMMERMAN
  • Photo by Bryan Zimmerman
  • Shona McAndrew, Just the three of us (installation view). Papier mache.

In early June I came upon an unexpected and delightful scene: a life-sized papier-mâché living room filled with a trio of half-clothed females looking comfortably stoned, holding space together, pigging out on snacks, and focused on each other while offering us a peek into their intimate womanly sphere. This is the artist Shona McAndrew’s (b. 1990) creative world—Just the three of us—and it is gleefully fun. Every single object in this colorful, contained environment—170 objects total—was lovingly crafted by McAndrew, and it is stunning thing to behold a reality rendered entirely of paper.

Known for her papier-mâché sculptures, digital collages, and paintings that depict women in private moments, McAndrew draws from her personal pleasures and experiences. Her art is also beautifully honest in its portrayal of women’s bodies and related themes. Perhaps one of the most contested issues in the field of art theory, the idea of the “gaze” is often fraught with notions of male desire, sex, and objectification. This installation by McAndrew repositions the gaze among women as to foster a celebratory mood that appears to be one-part comedy sketch—we can almost hear the witty banter—and one-part therapy session—what exactly are they discussing in this enamored moment? With an intentional sense of arrangement and placement, the artist has created a relaxed atmosphere that we can enjoy with her winsome threesome.

McAndrew studied psychology and painting during her undergraduate years at Brandeis University and she did her MFA at RISD. Her art reflects a combination of the psychological dynamics of womanhood and an expert handling of her chosen material. With this show at Art Omi, McAndrew has orchestrated an elaborate composition that is both curiously cerebral and artfully calculated—Just the three of us is a 3D story, one that brings us in on several levels. At closer inspection, everything about this domestic scene hints at a narrative beyond what we are seeing. Peering down from the top of the bookshelf, for example, is a doyenne in the form of an ancient Grecian bust—she smiles overhead with puckered red lips like a jubilant grandmother. Her historical form recalls the Three Graces from classical mythology, a natural allegory with respect to Just the three of us. To the left of the bookshelf is a portrait of an old woman wrapped in a shawl—she glares at us from a time and place long ago as compared with the jovial contemporary energy of the room. Are these representations of a family legacy or are they symbolic traces of a more conservative era for women? In either case, we get the feeling that all of these ladies are purposefully positioned within the maidenly picture.

There are several overtly feminine references that are amusing tropes in their own right: the rug is patterned with boobs and nipples, unopened tampons are littered about, and an enormous pink bra below the couch proposes a night of bare-breasted freedom. Here the hackneyed cliche of the single, middle-aged “cat lady” stereotype—as suggested by the prominent cat-scratching tower and “World’s best cat mom” coffee mug—does not detract from the spectacle due to McAndrew’s admirable command over the fine art of papier-mâché. And among the most compelling moments of this female love-fest is the copy of Hayden Herrera’s Frida biography on the lamp stand—the detailed drawing of Kahlo on the cover is one of the most precious aspects of the installation.

As a cannabis enthusiast, I was charmed by McAndrew’s candid presentation of marijuana as part of this tableau vivant. Besides the presence of a canister of weed, rolling papers, and several thick joints poised to be burned (and two ashtrays with no less than five blunt butts), the table is distinctly arranged with everything one could need after a proper smoke-out with friends: chips, hummus, ice cream, cans of Stella Artois, a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, a bowl of purple M&Ms, and a heaping plate of Oreos. The blissful energy among these figures is palpable, and I found myself smiling giddily as I realized the full scope of the stoner scene. As I was preparing to leave a group of three women entered the space and one blurted out, “Look, it’s us!” as she came upon the exhibit. That moment warmed my heart in the same way that McAndrew’s work kindles a realm of earthly delights that is both silly and sincere.

Just the three of us is on display in the Benenson Center at Art Omi through August 29.

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