A gallery show centered on art of fingernail adornment lends itself, naturally, to skepticism. After all, flamboyant fingertip art is the province of the Katy Perrys of the world: entertaining, but not the stuff of art exhibits.
So at the opening of "Nailed" at Subliminal Projects in Silver Lake on Friday night, our expectations ran low.
And at first, it seemed like our hunch was right; the show initially read as an homage to fashion excess. Oversized gold and rhinestone rings designed to envelop the entire middle finger were carefully cradled in lavish, purple velvet-encrusted boxes in the front room. Further back, press-on nails decorated with beads, Gucci symbols and tiny lettering were delicately balanced on pedestals. On the walls hung photographs of models wearing nothing but acrylics.
It was becoming tempting to write the show off as a Vogue spread come to life until artist Carlos Dzine Rolon, who created the rings, explained that his inspiration came not from pop culture, but from listening to women gossip about their lovers and ex-lovers in nail salons.
"Nail salons create a sense of identity and of community that I wanted to capture," he said. "People go to talk about their lovers, to hang out, to hear their native tongue."
And with that in mind, the show began to emerge from its superficial trappings. The middle-finger rings suddenly radiated the strength of women whose stories of jilted lovers and romantic pain come pouring out over acrylic paint and sudsy water in salons the world over. The press-ons became a suit of armor, designed to let the wearer glance down and be reminded of the community standing behind her.
No longer about accessory overload, one could almost hear the rallying cries of "He's not good enough!" and "you deserve better!" emanating from each tiny piece of art.
Besides, if we're going to go down that road, what better way is there to tell an ex to fuck off than to slowly unfurl a middle finger festooned with rhinestones, a gold-plated Playboy bunny and a one-inch brass spike at the tip?
The exhibit could certainly be viewed as a primer as to what's what in digit decoration. Massive, Gaga-like rings = good. Acrylics that exuberantly celebrate capitalism = stylish. But we left with the distinct sense that the real beauty of nail art runs much deeper than the tips of anyone's fingers.