By Katie Lothrop
Consumer culture dictates identity, for goods are not purchased for functional satisfaction alone. Rather, they can be procured as a means of establishing status. Artist Jill Baker Gower uses lace and brooch-like pieces to speak to the female experience and, in doing so, operates through set ideals of female gender roles, allowing governing social boundaries – including those set by consumer culture – to prevail. Gower links gender to consumer culture in this display of aesthetically pleasing art objects; as art objects, they expand beyond the functional component, becoming part of consumer culture itself.
Using mixed materials, such as sterling silver, silicone, mirror, feathers, and pearls, Gower creates sculptural elements and small jewelry pieces to illustrate consumer culture’s portrayal of women’s needs and desires and the value associated with incorporating luxe materials. Primarily a metalsmith, she references the human body using silicone and mirrors; showcasing jewelry with delicate lace elements and pink, flesh-toned silicone, Gower allows these pieces to connect to traditional views of femininity.
Though the exhibit space is small, the work is adequately spaced. However, all freestanding pedestals are placed against the wall, preventing full view of the sculptural work in the round and wires, indicating boundaries, are placed in front of the wall pieces. Through this intentional choice in display style, spatial boundaries prevent Gower’s objects from being touched and fully viewed, thus creating visual breaks that prevent the feminine from being fully experienced. The breaks allow the viewer a moment to disconnect with the work and contemplate the limitations gender roles place on us all.
Jill Baker Gower’s work seems successful in communicating her feminist approach. However, by exhibiting a limited range of flesh tones, Gower references traditional European standards of beauty. Thus, her feminism lacks intersectionality. The act of public display invites an opportunity to connect to a greater audience, but her work speaks primarily to a white, female experience. Gower highlights her personal feminist experience through products and feminine ideals, failing to venture outside certain boundaries, highlighting the experience of the white female while neglecting women of color. By working within these boundaries, she calls attention to them, and succeeds in challenging traditional notions of consumer culture and gender identity. Succeeding in both concept and execution, Jill Baker Gower’s exhibition, “Tributaries: Jill Baker Gower – Reflection”, is a stand-alone reason to visit the Metal Museum.
Tributaries: Jill Baker Gower – Reflection is on display at the Metal Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, from April 14, 2019 to June 20, 2019.
Katie Lothrop is studying art history at the University of Memphis and is set to graduate in December 2019. Please hire her.