Exhibition | Virginia Lee Montgomery: Sword in the Sphinx

Posted in exhibitions, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on September 4, 2021

Virginia Lee Montgomery (VLM), Sword in the Sphinx, 2018, resin, steel, rust, concrete, enamel. As installed at Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, New York in 2018.

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Opening this month at Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park:

Virginia Lee Montgomery: Sword in the Sphinx
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 16 September — 31 October 2021

The figure of the sphinx originated as an ancient Egyptian and Greek mythological monster. The sphinx with a female head and upper body and with lion’s legs became a popular garden statue in 18th-century Europe. Its features resembled that of Madame Pompadour, the French patron of the arts and chief mistress of King Louis XV. In Sword in the Sphinx, VLM adopts the Pompadour-style sphinx with a shocking twist: her back is pierced with a steel sword. Known for combining surrealism and feminism, VLM asks provocative questions about the representation of female power in art, adding another layer of meaning to a mythical figure with a complex history. Sword in the Sphinx is VLM’s official entry in the 2021 ArtPrize competition.

Marble Ponytails, the smoothly carved and polished marble ponytails, installed in the Courtyard Level, are named after ancient deities, among them Aurora, Andromeda, and Medusa. VLM asks us to dissociate these forms from masculine phallocentric readings, shifting perspective toward what she calls “feminist metaphysics.” VLM carved these sculptures by hand at the historic West Rutland Marble Quarry, on a fellowship through The Vermont Carving Studio and Sculpture Center.

Two of VLM’s short films are also being screened in the O-A-K Theater.

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Virginia Lee Montgomery (VLM), CUT COPY SPHINX, 2018, digital video, 3minutes 30seconds. “A surreal, sculptural short art-film about metaphysics, myth, and destruction. A feminist twist on the classical myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx, CUT COPY SPHINX recasts the sphinx as the uncanny hero who endures ‘cuts’ across time. Shot en plein aire on a miniature prop-set with a Dewalt drill and a gallon of honey, CUT COPY SPHINX syncs philosophy, feminism, and image theory. The film is directed, edited, scored, and performed by the artist, VLM” (description from Vimeo).

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Responding to a 2018 installation of Sword in the Sphinx at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York, Wendy Vogel describes the video CUT COPY SPHINX:

“A video for the park’s website dramatizes how an eighteenth-century sculpture of Madame de Pompadour as a sphinx, the authorship of which is disputed, has been copied for centuries in decor and knickknacks. A response to the #MeToo movement, Montgomery’s work upends the masculine bravado of the tales of King Arthur and Oedipus. ‘In the myth, Oedipus kills the sphinx’, Montgomery says, ‘but in my version she just keeps replicating’.”

–Wendy Vogel, “First Look: Virginia Lee Montgomery,” Art in America (October 2018).

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