traditional artists | Mary Ellen Croteau


In Men I Have Known, a mason jar stuffed with what appears to be pickled penises, Croteau foreshadows the themes of Saint Lorena. Offering to the viewer an unsettling mixture of humor and rage, Croteau renders the homely Ball jar suddenly uncanny, a site/sight of ravenous hungers and strange trophies. In this way, she undermines the kitchen's -and femininity's-- association with passiveness, safety, hearth, and haven.


Similarly, in the installation Creation of Man, Croteau again represents traditionally feminine tasks, in this case ironing, as both productive and deadly. In this work, an iron further flattens and immobilizes the flaccid skin of a man, his gender marked by his shriveled genitals. Here, as in Men I Have Known, Croteau invests feminine chores/tasks and objects with the power to struggle against, to render ridiculous, a patriarchal ideology which relegates women to the private sphere and dismisses her labor as women's work.


In the painting The Unrepentant Magdalene, Croteau presents herself as the infamous biblical temptress, luxuriating in the display of the broad expanse of her body. Rather than turning away from the viewer in shame, Croteau/Magdalene gazes directly at the viewer with a complicitous smile, her open mouth about to receive a glowing cherry. The symbols of vanitas on the table before her, candies and jewelry, as well as the skull, a traditional memento mori, bear little rhetorical power as they retreat behind the joyous exposure of female skin. In Unrepentant as well as Getting in Shape, Croteau offers an alternative, celebratory discourse about embodied femininity whose contours far exceed the shape of the ideal American female body. In this way, Croteau's art refuses complicity with film, television, and advertising images, which endeavor to impose upon women a normalizing and oppressive aesthetic ideal which strips them of their flesh as well as their agency and visibility.

Excerpted from the Woman Made Gallery

{Tanya Pretorius' Bookmarks: Art, Mary Ellen Croteau}


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