Body/Magic: Liz Cohen at Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe takes viewers inside the artist’s creative process while punctuating critical themes in her work, including transformation, labor, and personal agency.
January 16–May 29, 2021
ASU Art Museum, Tempe
A lowrider car, images of bikini-clad women, a row of metal sickles: they’re all anchors for Body/Magic, an exhibition centering Liz Cohen’s ongoing exploration of hybridized identities and cultures, achieved in part through her immersion in lowrider culture.
Here, curator Julio César Morales uses video, photographs, and ephemera to take viewers inside the artist’s creative process while punctuating critical themes in her work, including transformation, labor, and personal agency.
Cohen’s custom lowrider car (Trabantamino, 2002-11) draws viewers into a gallery focused on her seminal Bodywork series. Text panels and a timeline elucidate the cultural context and significance of this kinetic sculpture, which was built using an East German Trabant and an American El Camino.
Like lowrider culture, the car is a powerful metaphor for the artist’s own hybridized identity, initially molded within her Columbian Jewish family amid the Cold War era.
Installations of ephemera flank the lowrider, reinforcing the artist’s role as a change agent while positioning viewers to consider their own power to transform themselves and society. One features tools, the other clothing worn while assuming roles from car customizer to model.
Another gallery highlights more recent work, including the Stories Better Told by Others series created in response to the #MeToo and #NotSurprised movements of 2017. Using photographs and lithographs elevating lowrider magazine cover models, Cohen shifts the narrative from the male gaze to female empowerment.
Here, viewers also discover that the exhibition title was inspired by the book Body Magic by Lisa Lyon, a bodybuilder photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe during the early 1980s. Cohen collaborated with lowrider model Dazza Del Rio to reinterpret several of those images from a female perspective (Body Magic, 2020, video; Body Magic, 2020, inkjet prints).
Body/Magic is a compelling showcase for not only the depth and breadth of Cohen’s work, but also her ongoing journey with self-transformation.