The work in Valentina Vaccarella’s “Bless this Life” rests on a simple irony: monogrammed, embroidered French bridal linens (they’re antiques, of course—like marriage itself) pulled taut across stretcher bars and besmirched by rough images of modern madams. Vaccarella stuck inkjet printouts to wet gesso, then rubbed away the paper, leaving behind thin, sticky-looking images that resemble ill-used posters. The process results in long tears; the raised fleurs and eyelets of the sheets break up the worked-in picture. Vaccarella sets up a parallel between two institutions: religious, political union, and the oldest profession of them all. The show would be moralizing, if it weren’t so glorying.
The women depicted, for the most part, are in trouble—caught, thrust into the light of public life, tabloids and courts. They’re not cowed, though. Stones Girl ‘Kristin Davis’ (all 2022) smiles slyly for the paparazzi and holds a copy of the New York Post; Heidi Fleiss, once the “Hollywood Madam,” appears in Risk Management at a photo op in the Australian stock exchange. The darkest piece in the show, both formally and psychologically black, is No Way to Treat a Lady, a small portrait of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, aka the D.C. Madam; one can only drool over her high-end address book. She tried to reveal hers, and then was found hanged. But what is purity good for, if not to ruin. “Bless This Life” adapts the inbuilt irony of the trousseau, a material metaphor for the virginal body: home goods saved up, perchance to be used, but in a sanctified, contractual context. Bridal linens are built to spill, to be stained with the fluids of monogamous fucking, then bleached back empty. It all sounds like a lot of work. —Travis Diehl