I have a problem with Laurel Nakadate. It has nothing to do with her thighs and everything to do with Craigslist and her lacy panties. In a recent interview with Miranda Siegel for New York Magazine, she makes herself out to be a victim:
Pulling out “anti-feminist” card in a situation like this is like telling someone they're racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, or ageist for not liking an artist who focuses on one of these topics. Nakadate puts her own body on display in her works; there's no way that people aren't going to take notice. With performance and video, the body viewed on-screen isn't a non-issue; it's part-and-parcel of the artwork. Nakadate’s body takes on a starring role in her works and it seems like she’s the only one who won’t admit it.
I'm not bothered by Nakadate's relative attractiveness or her proclivity for tarty underwear; I'm bothered by her refusal, here, to own up to the obvious juxtapositions her works present between young and old; male and female; and, of course, fuckworthy and repulsive.
There are plenty of precedents in contemporary art of performance artists who are also hot. Hannah Wilke's a great case. She was gorgeous, but that never becomes a topic for criticism until the clothes come off. In Snatch Shots with Ray Guns (1978), which is exactly what you think it will be, Wilke aims her ass at the camera. She also got naked for things like exhibition announcements. Unlike Nakadate, Wilke didn't shy away from the self-awareness of her very public postures. Cindy Sherman, whose Untitled Film Stills began around the same time as Snatch Shots, kept her own body out of criticism because she obscured it through layers of make-up, wigs, and props.
It may appear a bit strange that critics like Ken Johnson focus so much on biography in Nakadate's work—“she is a fit and attractive woman in her mid-30s who has an M.F.A. from Yale”—but the glaring fact is that biography is an inescapable criticism when a performer focuses so much of their work on their own body. If Nakadate outsourced her performances or if she were a non-figurative painter, I'd be hounding on Ken Johnson's criticism. Instead, nobody's to blame except Nakadate; she brought this biographical interpretation on herself due to her choice of subject matter. She acknowledges this slightly in the same New York Magazine issue when she begins to bloviate about her position in art history:
After hundreds of years of art history, a young half-Asian girl meets older white men, and she's the predator? Suddenly no one can take it?
Nakadate's not doing anything that hasn't been done before—in the hundreds of years of Western art history. Regardless of whether or not you're anti-feminist, there's plenty of reasons to dislike Laurel Nakadate's work. My choice: her works are too simple.
365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears (2010-11) could have been ripped from an undergrad photography course assignment: take a photo of yourself repeating the same action everyday; then read about how photographs always lie about real life (re: Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Walter Benjamin). Lessons 1-10 (2001), which “purports to be a montage of scenes from a series of Sundays Nakadate spent posing for a slovenly balding man who advertised for an artist's model on Craigslist,” presents a backwards view of the “scary internet,” a world that's full of sexual deviants preying on innocent teenagers in chat rooms. Nakadate's use of Craigslist as a haven for those less-than desirable types plays into these outdated stereotypes, leaving no room for gray area or nuance. Craigslist and the internet are more complicated than the version Nakadate puts forth. It's a good reason to dislike the work—and it doesn't resort to dirty tricks like calling someone out for being anti-feminist.