Shotgun Review

Lane Arthur in The Women

By Shotgun Reviews February 23, 2010

Lane Arthur's Tabletop with Writing Utensils (2009) is currently on view in “The Women,” a three-person show at NOMA Gallery. In the painting, a woman's hands, a letter opener, a stylish clock, a gilded pen, and a bottle of Dove lotion act as the key players in a staged scene of writing. Based upon a still frame from the 2008 film The Women, Arthur’s Tabletop introduces a character who is set up to write a letter. Is this character an actress from The Women, or is she Lane Arthur, the artist, whose name appears at the head of the stationery before her? 

She has set down three crisp sheets of paper. All we see is printed letterhead—no date, no message. The left hand seems to be posing, holding the paper in place. The fingers of the right hand are flexed to hold the pen, but are hardly poised to begin any real work. The skin is shiny and smooth, the nails manicured. While the white sheet of paper that occupies most of Tabletop sits blank, another object speaks to the viewer quite directly: a bottle of Dove "pro-age" lotion promises to eternally renew the sheen of the hands, denying time like the frozen hands of the clock depicted on the table.

In the paintings 155 (2010) and 92 (2010), also on display at NOMA, Arthur presents text drawn from the captions of Christie's and Sotheby's auction catalogs. Unable to use the legally protected font owned by Sotheby’s, Arthur replicates it as precisely as possible, having created stencils to paint each letter. The exactness of the stencils results in a painting that looks very much like a print, an effect betrayed only by the uneven spacing between the words.

Tabletop With Writing Utensils, 155, and 92, 2009-2010; installation view from "The Women;" oil on canvas; dimensions variable. Courtesy of NOMA Gallery, San Francisco.

Tabletop With Writing Utensils, 2009; oil on canvas; 22 X 30 in. Courtesy of NOMA Gallery, San Francisco.

Considered alongside the blank letter, 155 and 92 give the viewer hope of obtaining knowledge, reading a story, filling in the space left bare on the tabletop. But the text paintings—like the painting of the writing utensils—are merely sets of pre-existing fragments, descriptions of objects that do not seem to come from any one person and do not communicate a unified message. 

Often, the refusal to speak clearly brings about the suspicion of criminal intent. Criminality is a subtle motif in Arthur's paintings; the letter opener could be read as a knife, while the disjointed text of 155 and 92 reminds one of a violent, authorless ransom note.

Thinking of “The Women," a line from Barbara Johnson comes to mind:  "It is as though women were constantly subject to the Miranda warning: ‘You have the right to remain silent. If you waive that right anything you say can and will be used against you."[1]


“The Women” is on view at NOMA Gallery in San Francisco through February 28, 2010. 

[1] Johnson, Barbara. The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race, and Gender. (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1998), 137.


Stacie Vos is a gentlewoman scholar who lives in Guilford, Connecticut.

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