Creamy Psychology – Yvonne Todd

Last weekend I spent a couple of days in Wellington and took time to see a few exhibitions of work including Yvonne Todd’s ‘Creamy Psychology’ at the Wellington City Gallery.

The gallery had given over the whole 2 floors to the exhibition and that really gave scope to the work. What I enjoyed most about seeing so many works from the same artist over a period of years was to get a really good idea of her practice and how that was expressed through numerous groups of works. I can readily recall the differences and similarities between groupings and how ideas have carried through and been articulated in different ways.

I enjoyed the poignancy in the portraits of the beauty counter ladies. The photos seemed like the ones that would have been rejected from a staff portrait session for being ‘not quite right’ due to the depth and subtlety of emotion in the women’s expressions. My boyfriend and I came up with the possible thoughts that looked like they might be going through their heads; things like “I always hoped to be a geologist.” or “I don’t think I can face yet another seasonal lipstick.”

The portraits of young girls dressed up in vintage gowns had the creep factor you get from child beauty pageants. The artists statement commented on how young girls dressed this way get a certain crone quality, and I agree this is true. There is something about girls in over-elaborate dresses and make-up that makes them appear shrunken and shrivelled, aged before their time.

Interesting to me was how different the portraits of the men felt in comparison to those of women. The boardroom portraits of CEOs and retired surgeons were comical and jolly, whereas I found pretty much all the female portraits to contain a range of negative emotions from sorrow to fear to disappointment and many mixed emotions. The male portraits appeared more straightforwardly as a pastiche of middle aged executive portraiture. It got me thinking about who has power in front of and behind the lens – the men seemed to have more agency and were able to express their own personalities (even if they were seen as figures of fun) in a way the women were not.

I also really enjoyed seeing the artist’s collection of vintage dresses that appeared in the photographs and the various items and images that had inspired her over the years. This gave an added depth to my understanding of her practice and what sparked the ideas for the images.

This is my first overview of this exhibition, but I feel I will return to it and have some more thoughts I want to express in the next few weeks.

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