For her solo show, "Aesthetic Relations," New York artist Cindy Hinant used the cosmetics chain Sephora as a place of artistic inquiry. As conveyed by its title, the show questioned the principles of relational esthetics, and suggested dispersions beyond the walls of sanctioned art spaces. Through mixed-medium works shown in the gallery and actions occurring at Sephora stores, the artist suggested that a meaningful group esthetic experience is possible-and perhaps more probable-in a non-art environment.
In contradistinction to the sensory overload of Sephora's perfumes, powders and paints, Hinant's show was quietly unadorned. Three wall pieces, two books and a stack of postcards, all in black and white, comprise the "Sephora Project" (2012). The data-based works included Hinant's grids of charts cataloguing the varieties of esthetic and social exchanges that she had at Sephora. The artist filled out one chart every time she visited the store, tracking information such as the free samples she acquired and her conversations with salespeople, for example, "Was asked by Sephora employee to have hair curled-served as model for cosmetic product."
An edition of 500 postcards designed by Hinant and distributed, guerrilla-marketing-style, at various Sephoras, allowed the artist to put forth less defined propositions. The front of the card shows a map of Manhattan dotted with the Sephora logo, and the back lists the addresses for every location. While Hinant's expressed intention is to open up possibilities for relational esthetics, this gesture raises a perhaps inadvertent question: At what point does critical exploration become mere promotion?
Hinant's show demonstrated a commitment to disturbing the norms of art, with success and failure at various turns. Several works explore the formal qualities of the grid, including the video Selfish (2012), which synchronized the appearance of horizontal and vertical lines on the screen to the beats of a Britney Spears song. For a series of small ink-on-paperboard works titled "Bed Grid" (2010-11), Hinant drew grids freehand while lying in bed at night, according to a gallery worker. The relation between the grid's exactitude and the vagaries of the human hand has been explored by many artists, such as Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse. Hinant may want to place herself in this lineage, but the drawings lack a strong argument for their own existence.
The most compelling works were two large, enigmatic digital C-prints in shadowy gray, each titled Softcore (2012). The subject matter, according to gallery personnel, is hardcore porn imagery the artist found online. The works are unreadable as such. Using Photoshop (almost in the manner of makeup), the artist covers over the explicit scene, presenting only a vague, pretty outline of entwined figures. Complementing these prints were two beige paintings, both titled Makeup Painting (2011). The artist repeatedly pressed her made-up face against 40-by-30-inch sheets of paper. After a month of blotting, the lightly textured, monochrome paintings were complete. The works have the intriguingly lifeless quality of decorative, sponge-painted suburban walls; here, the makeup appears almost more masklike on paper than it does on skin. Joining artists who use makeup as both medium and subject, notably Sanja Iveković, Hinant once again places herself in an art historical genealogy. This time it works.
Photo: Cindy Hinant: Makeup Painting, 2011, makeup on paper, 40 by 30 inches; at Joe Sheftel.