Francesca DiMattio: Statues

Robert R. Shane, The Brooklyn Rail, 6 November 2019

“…the ambitious woman and the heroine are strange monsters.” — Simone de Beauvoir (1949)


Towering over the viewer, Francesca DiMattio’s monstrous 9-foot tall She-Wolf (2018), with a bulbous black head stretching out from grafted human and animal forms, including a porcelain human front leg and a life-sized hunting dog standing in for a rear leg, restores the wildness of this maternal wolf once immortalized in the famous Etruscan bronze (500 BCE) that the sculpture references. In each work in this exhibition, Statues, which brings together DiMattio’s monumental ceramic sculptures (2015–present), the artist confounds past and present stereotypes of femininity by remaking classical figures, such as Venus or the Caryatids, in her signature cacophonous composite of historical porcelain styles—a medium she chooses for its gendered associations with decoration and domesticity. Building on recent theories of monstrosity by philosophers Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti, art historian Rosemary Betterton has used the term “promising monsters” to describe artistic representations of pregnant or birthing bodies that break down oppressive constructions of maternity—and femininity more generally—not through new idealizations but by bursting the boundaries of classical form. This critical deployment of monstrosity as a liberatory tactic is boldly at work in DiMattio’s Statues which are excessive, grotesque, and spectacular, and refuse to be objectified or contained.