According to Tennyson, in the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. At The Andy Warhol Museum, two companion exhibitions suggest that said fancy is best visually captured by scantily clad women with doe eyes, feline smiles and rabbit ears.
Bunny Yeager: The Legendary Queen of the Pin-Up and Playboy Redux: Contemporary Artists Interpret the Iconic Playboy Bunny celebrate the joy of sexy. The former collects one woman's view of herself, the latter a few dozen artists' responses to the call to create a new look for the Bunny. Together, they form a mostly joyous, predominantly superficial (in the best possible way) celebration of the female form.
After retiring from a triumphant career in front of the camera, Wilkinsburg's own Bunny Yeager switched to the other side, transferring the moxie that made her one of post-World War II Miami's most sought-after pin-up models into making other women look fantastic. Such women included Bettie Page in her Playboy spreads and Ursula Andress in the famed beach stills from Dr. No.
Some of Yeager's best work, in which she's her own subject and culled from the span of a few decades, is seen here, as curated by Emily Hetzel and the Warhol's Eric C. Shiner. Yeager shows up blonde and brunette; with collared cheetahs and cuddled kittens; solo and with Miss Page; and showcasing enough bikinis to populate the Victoria's Secret swim catalog. Regardless of the setting (often beach) or the props (cameras, a typewriter and, inexplicably but still delightfully, a Viking longboat), Yeager herself is engaging, vivid and gorgeous, red-blooded American womanhood at its finest. Her beauty as a subject is matched by her skill as a photographer.
Yeager's side of the coin is void of political comment, and that's what makes it work. The same mostly goes for the flip, wherein reinventions of Hefner's manufacture succeed when they roll with the party without passing judgment. In Playboy Redux, curated by Shiner, Ned West and Playboy curator Aaron Baker, the showstopper is Tara McPherson's "Bunny Love," a duet of blonde and redhead sipping a shared martini through pink straws, framed by a trio of bug-eyed balloons. Candy-colored and sugar sweet, the painting is a luscious confection, rejoicing in wholesome sensuality.
"Looking for Beuys in the Wood," by Ain Cocke, gives us a Red Riding sans hood, crimson satin blazing in the forest. Shag's contribution is just like all Shag contributions, this time in blues and purples: swanky revelry populated by foxy ladies, swinging gents, a couple of sneaky kids hiding beneath a table and the requisite black cat. Elsewhere, the Bunny is revamped as African tribal mask and manga goddess, and saluted by Frank Kozik, Gary Baseman, Jeremy Fish, Tim Biskup and more in an all-star cast.
A couple of pieces do attempt commentary, and while their depth can be appreciated on an intellectual level, it doesn't do a damn thing to add to the fun. LaToya Ruby Frazier makes things dirty with "Celebrating Playboy's 50th Anniversary," which does anything but. Viewers mashing faces against Frazier's whitewashed wooden box -- a week into the exhibition, it was grimy from the fleshpress -- glimpse clips of a bump-and-grinding silhouette split-screened with a flag-clad woman stripping to the buff while a man monotonously lists former centerfolds like Dorothy Stratten, Marilyn Monroe, Missy Cleveland and various other attractive ladies who are dead.
"Now Voyager (Yet Another Change)" features 110 Polaroids of what I'm pretty sure is a transsexual with a set of bowling-ball tits that should have resulted in a malpractice suit.
Despite a couple of turds in the punchbowl, it's a rollicking good time. If the objectification of women sets you steaming, it's probably best to stay away. But if you take the centerfold as an artful depiction of admiration ... hop on over.
Bunny Yeager: The Legendary Queen of the Pin-Up and Playboy Redux: Contemporary Artists Interpret the Iconic Playboy Bunny continue through June 19. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org
- All ears: Tara McPherson's "Bunny Love."