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Nicole Cawlfield
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Nicole Cawlfield
by Maria-Elena Buszek, Art Historian, 
Kansas City Art Institute

The pin-up girl has a bad reputation.  Sure, she can be a pin-curled cutie, skirts unwittingly flapping in the breeze or curled up with a ratchet set like it was so many stuffed bunnies. Still, she's not only much more likely to be a whip-cracking dom mistress or man-eating femme fatale, but the sheer artifice of the pin-up--as its primped, posed and perpetually self-aware subjects demonstrate--reminds its viewers that the spectacle at hand is just one of the many dimensions of female sexuality.

Unlike porn--the pin-up's wonderful, straight-talkin', loud-mouthed sister--which shows instead of tells, the pin-up is a deceptive yet convincing storyteller, engaged in a game of identity charades.  In the '50s, Bettie Page's career perhaps epitomized the schizophrenic allure of the pin-up.  From girlie mag to girlie mag, she would play up to the postwar fears of the (sexually, politically and economically) independent woman by grinning girlishly in a ruffled bikini, yet turn up, riding crop in hand, as the leather-skirted, fetish-heeled manifestation of those same fears.  In each calculated, controlled image of Page doled out to the public, she demonstrated that just when you thought you had a woman's desires and identity figured out, they would be scintillatingly thwarted at the next turn. As critic Craig Owens would write about the work of the great postmodern pin-up, Cindy Sherman, nearly half a century after Page's career: "While [she] may pose as a pin-up, she still cannot be pinned down."

Anti-Atkins Thin-Up Girl, Lacy, 2005
Gelatin silver print
16 X 20

 
 
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Nicole Cawlfield
Monica Cook
Zackary Drucker
Millie Wilson