We know that Kim Gordon is expert at being watched, but this collection of her artwork turns the gaze around
Reviewed by Cindy Widner, Fri., April 23, 2010
Performing/Guzzlingby Kim Gordon
Rizzoli, 144 pp., $60
Kim Gordon once told the Style channel, well into her multiple careers, that she considers herself neither a style icon nor a musician. Despite the fact that she is clearly both – a co-creator, bassist, vocalist, songwriter, and magical stage presence in Sonic Youth and co-founder of X-Girl and Mirror/Dash clothing lines, among other things – we kind of know what she means: She gives the impression that she is simultaneously playing at things and dead serious. Her unimpeachable cool and tendency to have a take on high-profile pop moments can make some of her fixations seem transient, but her loyalty to image and enigma is infused with intelligence, honesty, complexity, and wit. We know, too, that she is expert at being watched, but this collection of her artwork turns the gaze around. Consisting mostly of watercolors inspired by what she sees when she's onstage, Performing/Guzzling re-creates the kind of blurry overstimulation we've come to associate with Sonic Youth. Splotches of color form images of faces with dark eyes and often open mouths, evoking the ethereal feeling and sexy/critical darkness that is that band's trademark. Gordon is one of the scads of performers who came to rock & roll by way of art school, and the technical and visual mastery of her casual-seeming studies reveals itself slowly. That both essayists included in the book – theatre critic Hilton Als and artist/musician Jutta Koether – discuss their presumptions that these faces are female adds another dimension to the situation. Inflecting an Armageddonish feeling are mixed-media pieces in which hometown papers The New York Times (New England edition!) and The New Hampshire Gazette, photos of topless Fifties biker pinups, and stills from a film about Norwegian black metal – a genre inseparable from its visual style, which has been referenced recently on a few catwalks, just to complete the circle – serve as canvases; dreamy, improvisational photos and her slyly referential, funny feminism (yes, it exists) in the form of the occasional lyric ("The NY school ain't got chicks/The NY school is made of dicks") bring the light back. Prettiest tour diary ever.