A long, slender piece of wood rounding into a perfectly symmetrical hourglass shape at its mid-section drapes vertically down one wall. On another hangs a portrait of a small boy rifling through a woman’s colorful drawer full of her intimates.
Clay sculptures adorned with lace. Mannequins donned in corsets and painted wigs. Feathers, frills, pastels, glass.
At “The Bra Show,” a temporary exhibit at Highlandtown’s Y:Art Gallery that runs through August, mixed-media works by more than 40 local artists celebrate the garment that's normally concealed from full view. Here, emblazoned by loud prints, brilliant colors and over-the-top embellishments, each subject presents its own perspective.
“It’s defiant, it’s in your face,” said Daniel Brown, an artist from the D.C. suburbs with a large picture of his wife in a red bikini on display. “I’m stunned by what’s on display here.”
Symbolic of its varied purposes and functionalities, the bras range in color, shape, form and size. Y:Art Gallery Owner Juli Yensho said she instructed the artists, many of whom she knows personally from the art community, not to hold back.
She said the current social and political climate – highly focused on a range of female experiences and challenges – lends itself to a multi-dimensional gallery exhibit.
“I said, ‘Take it wherever you want to take it,’ ” said Yensho, who lives in the space on the other side of the gallery’s back wall. “With bras, you can be constrained, or you can be free. There’s so much going on.”
The artists heeded her orders.
One bra, with cups made out of rainbow-colored fish heads, rests on a mannequin dressed in a matching skirt of blues and grays. Another, with metallic-inspired jagged spikes protruding in all directions, juts atop a bed of chains. Another makes innovative use of fly swatters.
In pictures and portraits, the bras cover bodies of all varieties, old and young, shapely and slim. Some bras appear without rightful owners, as in one painting where a polka-dotted undergarment hangs gallantly in the teeth of a dog on the run, and another where one suspends limply from a tree branch.
Beth Schwartz, a pathologist from Pikesville, constructed a sculpture out of wire, plaster and clay called “Holy Cow” for the exhibit, complete with lace and Photoshopped images of milk bottles. She said the piece represents the multi-functionality of breasts, which she called “nothing short of a miracle.”
Inside the straps, the doctor wrote out the health benefits of breast milk and its different biological components. While she rarely fuses her medical background with her art, she said she knew this showing called for it.
“Bras are a loaded subject. We hate them, we love them, we use them to change the way we look,” she said. “We look at breasts and we think about sex, but they’re not just used as these front pieces for women.”
The exhibit showcases another example of Baltimore’s distinct artistic irreverence. The pieces clash and tell starkly different narratives, but Yensho said she could not be happier with the end result.
“It’s a great first impression of the city,” said Anne Marie, an exhibit attendant hailing from Nashville. “It sends a reminder to the community that we’re living in a very supportive time.”