Film Noir at the White Gallery

Ann Chernow's Rose print

The White Gallery in Lakeville, Connecticut, has been temporarily transformed into a scene out of The Great Gatsby. With 1930s and 1940s music playing in the background, the provocative women on the wall tell the tale of the times in which they lived.

Ann Chernow’s work is edgy. She addresses an aspect of feminism that was not so beautiful. The 1920s paved the way for women to smoke, gamble, drink and wear dresses above the knee. Yet Chernow captures the women in the 1930s and 1940s who went overboard—the tramps, the dames, the hussies and the broads.

Her inspiration comes from film. In the exhibition guide, Chernow says, “I use film characters and period settings as points of departure and then freely reinterpret. Contemporary faces are added but without altering the spirit of the chosen cinematic information. In blending past and present I try to create a sense of déjà vu or nostalgia without the sentimentality often associated with specific film references. …Memories from films can be channels, metaphor and private reverie through which an artist can address the human condition.”

Chernow brilliantly shows how these new freedoms led in part to sexual degradation and objectification. Her ink prints, such as No Bed of Her Own and Easy to Pick, illustrate the loneliness and desperation of the times. Next to her prints she also includes creative captions that bring to life the beautiful disasters many of these women were. Next to Easy to Pick, she describes her subject as “the kind men want but won’t introduce to their mothers.” Women were trapped in their own liberty.

Chernow’s Vendetta and The Price of Fame are startling sights, with women in the role of murderers—not a scene typically shown. In her caption she describes the noble reasons for killing, such as war, but writes, “Harry had seen all sides of her and knew she had killed for sheer ambition. But he loved her anyway.”

The second room is filled with impeccably detailed linoleum prints—which is technically difficult to accomplish. While these prints are not quite as intense as the ink prints, they portray the attitudes of women at the time through their dress, make-up, hairstyles and jewelry.  Chernow’s print Cassie says it all. The woman is lavishly dressed with a leopard cloak, pearls and heavy make-up, and clearly in a more confrontational position—as if she is waiting to pounce on her prey.

Chernow uses contemporary models for these prints but adds the details to the images herself. Her medium is perfect for the stories and mood she’s portraying. 

Chernow conveys the shift of women from a submissive role to a more dominant and provocative role. Women were murderers and prostitutes—not exactly a pleasant sight, yet perversely alluring at the time. Her prints address the human condition—the desire to be loved, the fear of aloneness, the power struggles and all-consuming greed. In walking around the gallery, one can practically smell the cheap perfume, the thick cigarette smoke and the acerbic alcohol oozing out of these women.  

*The White Gallery will host this exhibition until July 8, 2012. Opened weekends only (refer to our calendar for details)

Ann Chernow's "Easy to Pick Up" print
Ann Chernow's "What Price Fame" print