The full blown quakes shaking the current discourse surrounding Niki Johnson’s Eggs Benedict, reached me as a mere tremor aftershock, a rumor of spectacular occurrence. I witnessed the aftermath of Johnson’s creatively seismic work during the day session of Gallery Night Spring 2013. Astounded, I expected to like the piece not to have my afternoon taken over by it.
Debra Brehmer, gladly spending some time with her patrons, candidly observed of Johnson’s piece a quality indescribably awe inspiring, a gestalt nearly impossible to render in contemporary art. Brehmer, Portrait Society Gallery’s Director, profoundly noted that the weaving technique Johnson used to ensnare Pope Benedict’s image mimics fine needle point work made so often from women’s hands; an irony for a woman’s craft to have created an irreverent iconic reference to an institution women have been so systematically subjugated within.
Depending on which side of Eggs Benedict pedestal display you approach from, you either feel duped or immediately captured. The portrait’s verso is exposed, revealing the tied medial regions and exposed openings of the many contraceptives. They are so carefully secured on the wire grid, in appearance, sloppy and awkward with no semblance of the intended likeness; a vestige of the personal made uncomfortably public. This window into Johnson’s artistic process demystifies the piece’s craft work, increasing its power.
Eggs Benedict by Niki Johnson on display at the Portrait Society Gallery, 2013
I stood with a couple hand fulls of people for much longer than you may traditionally imbibe an artwork, contemplating whether on a metaphysical level the Catholic church could oppose condoms as a mere object if not used for a contraceptive. Upon further deliberation, given that the portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict referenced in Eggs Benedict originates from a group of press photos associated with his now infamous statement that condoms help spread AIDS in Africa, and the unequivocal prohibition of contraceptives of all forms in Catholic dogma, it is absolutely impossible to parse the medium from the message. In fact, in no more certain terms could the adage “The medium is the message” hold true.
The stage of Eggs Benedict will always be heightened by Pope Benedict’s historic resignation, an eerie stroke fate for Niki Johnson. I sincerely hope they meet someday in some realm. Johnson has put Eggs Benedict up for auction, with proceeds going to benefit AIDS research. The opening bid came in at $20 thousand.
Johnson’s Eggs Benedict secures a moment in art history for Milwaukee; the Portrait Society Gallery serving as the vessel to bring this piece into the art world internationally; April 19, 2013 its semi-official first public opening.
Eggs Benedict remains on display at the Portrait Society Gallery through July 28th, Thursday – Saturday 12 noon to 5p. It will join a series of Niki Johnson’s work opening June 6, 2013 entitled Sourcebook: Martha Wilson and MKE.