André Breton once described Frida Kahlo’s work as “a ribbon around a bomb.” His words could also apply to Jessica Stoller’s witty and subversive sculptures, which first seduce and then explode into contrary objection. Each work, fashioned out of porcelain (a medium with a rich history linked to luxury and desire) and glazed in soft pastels with lusters and delicately detailed flourishes, deploys tactile sensuosity to veil shrewd critique.
“Spread,” Stoller’s recent exhibition, was introduced by a group of sculptures with profiles resembling ordinary vases or urns. The bodies of these vessels, however, morph into tasseled breasts or buttocks surrounded by delicate lace, their forms further embellished by such incongruous features as a base with four gilded feet ending in long, painted nails, lids ornamented with butterflies and writhing snakes, and handles that double as ears with large, dangling earrings. In addition to slyly reworking the traditional vase, Stoller’s often grotesque revisions upend the patronizing view of women as decorative accessories; instead, they celebrate the allure of the non-canonical, extravagant female body.
A number of works explored the analogy between porcelain and skin. In a series of skillfully crafted, wall-mounted mirrors, Stoller replaced the glass with ceramic renderings of dimpled, pimpled, wrinkled, and sagging flesh. Set within gold frames adorned with elaborate profusions of colorful porcelain flowers, these mirrors offer a fragmented reflection on beauty and vanity.
Other pieces invited appreciation of the breast. In one wall-mounted series, singular forms and groups, in a range of skin tones and sizes, some with piercings, explore the breast as an expressive form rather than an object of erotic fascination. The freestanding Breastplate, with bared, milk-filled breasts set against silver flesh above and flowing brown hair below, suggests armor and a corset, coupling nurture and sustenance with power and perseverance. Bloom focuses on fecundity and growth through exaggerated, almost Bosch-like fantasy. Set on a low table offering views from above and all around, a reclining, fragmented female body with opened legs—surrounded by strange flowers and surreal biomorphic forms—promises an erotic banquet of profuse life and orgasmic pleasure.
Stoller’s small female figurines and busts, most between 10 and 12 inches high, comment on the often erased aging body. Inspired by observations of her own body and those of her mother and grandmother, these figures—some covered in hair, others raising a sagging arm or posed as skeletal busts with grinning faces and flamboyantly exposed, incongruously fleshy breasts—disrupt ideals of beauty and the social prerogatives of youth culture to emphasize intimate encounter with, and fanciful delight in, the physicality of the mature female body.
Stoller’s skillful technique is evident throughout her work, reinforcing and subverting her subject matter. Her engaging sculptures honor women’s work, even as they destabilize distinctions between high and low, art and craft, decoration and function.