Bless This Life - Valentina Vaccarella at No Gallery NYC
Painted with matte on heirloom French linens embroidered with the initials of husbands and wives, Valentina Vaccarella’s works capture the lives they carved out for themselves over the lives expected of them. The distortions from the artist’s process resemble rips pulled straight from the gossip magazines, a formal echo of their much-documented downfalls in tabloids. Vaccarella’s eye for detail, the steely glam of Madame Claude and the full-body vulnerability of the doomed Deborah Jeane Palfrey make for a series of icons that might be reconsidered yet.
“BLESS THIS LIFE,” AN EXHIBITION BY VALENTINA VACCARELLA AT NO GALLERY, NEW YORK
In her exhibition “Bless This Life,” New York based artist Valentina Vaccarella breaks down the tightly knotted relation between politics, marriage and sex in a world ruled by men. Vintage dowry linens are turned into canvases, hold the portraits of notorious madams, celebrating the power of sex workers and their choices.
“Bless This Life,” is on view on view until May 8th at No Gallery, 105 Henry Street, New York
Photos by Paige Silveria
Valentina Vaccarella and Richard Kern on Pimps and Madams
By Richard Kern | Photographed by Richard Kern
Known for her sexualized sculptures of the female form, the New York-based artist Valentina Vaccarella is exploring new mediums in Bless This Life, her first solo show at No Gallery. Throughout the exhibit, frames fitted with vintage dowry linens embroidered with the initials of couples past are emblazoned with larger than life acrylic transfers of notorious madams including Heidi Fleiss—a Hollywood favorite—and Kristin Davis, a buxom blonde hedge fund manager-turned-hustler. Through her work, Vaccarella—a sex worker herself, celebrates the outsized power of women in the underworld while deconstructing the darker side of their notoriety, insinuating that when it comes to politics and sex, it’s still a man’s world. Raucous party scenes are juxtaposed with tabloid images and austere portraits, reminding the viewer that while these women were seen as heroes by several generations of sex workers, the clients they serviced, and the systems they were exploiting, were not so forgiving when it came to getting caught. To learn more about her process, No Gallery alumnus Richard Kern asked Vaccarella about pimps, porn, and the price of marriage while photographing her in her Bronx studio.
"Bless This Life" Valentina Vaccarella
The Guide review by Travis Diehl
The work in Valentina Vaccarella’s “Bless this Life” rests on a simple irony: monogrammed, embroidered French bridal linens (they’re antiques, of course—like marriage itself) pulled taut across stretcher bars and besmirched by rough images of modern madams. Vaccarella stuck inkjet printouts to wet gesso, then rubbed away the paper, leaving behind thin, sticky-looking images that resemble ill-used posters. The process results in long tears; the raised fleurs and eyelets of the sheets break up the worked-in picture. Vaccarella sets up a parallel between two institutions: religious, political union, and the oldest profession of them all. The show would be moralizing, if it weren’t so glorying.
Valentina Vaccarella / Bless this life
What Vaccarella’s women did with and for their escorts was more complex than simply selling them off. Madame Claude gave them makeovers and etiquette lessons, Deborah Jeane Palfrey insisted they be gainfully employed, Heidi Fleiss threw them a never-ending party. Business was business, but escorting at its highest-end could be a waystation and finishing school, an opportunity for girls to not only make money but to hone the skills which would finally land them the ultimate security: a stable marriage to a wealthy man. Beneath the glamour of extravagant gifts, destination gigs, and celebrity clientele, many of Vaccarella’s subjects shared a steely, unforgiving realism about intimacy and money that was stepped in their own experiences of economic desperation and bad romance. Men had money and women had their bodies, which were valuable but depreciating assets. Marriage was the ultimate prize, which in its manipulations of intimacy was akin to whoring anyway. For others who didn’t share in this belief, the thrill of pulling in money and exercising their business acumen was just as addictive. Whether in dire straits (Anna Gristina, Madame Claude) or flush with new money (Kristin Davis, Heidi Fleiss), the enterprise of being a madam became an all-consuming occupation.
'Bless This Life' by Valentina Vaccarella at No Gallery, New York
Because they operate deeper in the shadows and outsource their dirtiest work to others, madams have not seen the slightest bump to their reputations. Many who hold ostensibly pro-sex work beliefs would balk at the idea of even giving them the time of day, usually opting for another less lady-like term to describe their dealings: pimps. If the jobs are similar in description, for the women that Valentina Vaccarella surveys in her show, Bless This Life at No Gallery, it’s completely opposite in spirit. To quote the legendary LA brothel keeper, Madam Alex, “This is a woman’s business. When a woman does it, it’s fun, there’s a giggle in it; when a man’s involved, he’s sleazy, he’s a pimp. He may know how to keep girls in line, and he may make money, but he doesn’t know what I do.”