I Am Shelley DuVallby Tucker Neel
Artillery Magazine, March/April 2020.
I Am Shelley DuVall frames the inimitable ‘80s actress as a queer icon, whose tragic life and captivating personality has always vacillated between human and extraterrestrial planes. The exhibition functions as a hybridized gallery/clothing store that also raises funds for SIMS, a non-profit serving artists living with addiction and mental illness in central Texas. Introductory wall text connects Duvall’s own mental illness and the non-profit, though it’s not entirely clear whether she has any knowledge of the role she’s playing in this aestheticized philanthropic endeavor.
The show’s signature work is a short, very funny video by Xavier Hamel featuring 16 characters from LA’s queer nightlife and entertainment community individually reciting the line, “I am Shelley Duvall,” the introduction used in every episode of her iconic TV show Faery Tale Theater. It’s a collective affirmation, a queer “I am Spartacus.” Each performer is dressed to look like a fairytale character, aided by costuming created by the designer Mlaed, whose garments are also for sale in the gallery.
Mlaed’s frocks have an impromptu urgency reminiscent of Vivian Westwood’s punk masterpieces. The clothes are made from upcycled garments sourced from Mlaed’s social circle. A mannequin greets visitors wearing an assemblage of rainbow footy socks atop golden leggings that end in humungous, animal paw slippers, an exclamatory look worthy of genderfuck parties like Ostbahnof and Por Detroit. Nearby clothing racks are filled with T-shirts combines, like a Freddy Kruger “Follow Your Dreams” cartoon conjoined with a ‘70s muscle-T. A standout is a ring of jockstraps with horse patches hanging from a drying rack, which beg to be both art and something more functional. Large, unframed photos nearby capture confident personalities modeling Mlaed’s clothes in contrapposto gestures.
The photos are further brought to life in the Pee Pee Theater, a miniscule back room decorated with billowing cotton clouds and a beautifully engorged beanstalk. In this space one can feel part of something on the verge of explosion while watching icons like the incredible Tiamat Legion Medusa lip-syncing through a forked tongue with a smiling, reptilian face.
It’s refreshing to see an art exhibit like this mix up kunst and commerce. However, while I appreciate the desire of both artists and galleries to make the world a better place, I don’t see the need to wrap it all up in this particular fundraising scheme. Given that Duvall’s apparent mental illness was recently exploited by Dr. Phil for ratings, it seems uncool to use her affliction in this art context. The show may be exciting and genre-defying, but one is left to wonder if it comes at Duvall’s unwitting expense.