All Dressed in Pink—Femininity, Consumerism, and Sexuality in Portia Munson: The Pink Bedroom

Museum of Sex

January 25 – March 18, 2023.

Exhibition Review by Barbie Kim

Portia Munson (b. 1961)’s latest solo exhibition, The Pink Bedroom at the Museum of Sex, takes on maximalist visualization of desire, pleasure, femininity, and taboo dressed entirely in pink. The Pink Bedroom derives from the thematic thread that weaves through Munson's decades-long career exploring the relationship between consumerism and the construction of femininity and sexual objectification. Munson’s exhibition showcases a series of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and a site-specific iteration of the Pink Project: Bedroom (1994 – ongoing).

Located at the back end of the gallery space, The Pink Project: Bedroom crowns as the centerpiece glowing in shades of pink. Through a small passage against the wall, the viewer can walk past the Bedroom, examining Munson’s collection with great curiosity. The viewer now finds themselves immersed in pink, other than the walking passage with a pink carpet. Munson’s camp approach to an essentialist satire has a sense of familiarity with Judy Chicago and Mimi Shapiro’s Womenhouse(1972) project. The Bedroom uses pink to connect the conflicted yet often associated themes between innocent child-oriented products and objects regarding sexuality. The selection creates an experience where disturbance takes over the initial wonder when entering the space. Is the work a sexual liberation where Munson refabricates the socially constructed femininity, or is Bedroom an installation that cautions the fetishization of girlhood?

In many ways, the experiences of viewing the Bedroom display a metaphor for sexual violence. The viewers spend extensive time in the installation, preoccupied while taking photographs of the object or themselves. Rarely had one stopped and realized the connection between sexualizing girlhood objects.

The installation is tended with pink baby onesies Munson sourced from thrift stores; she then sews them together, sometimes collaborating with her students as a large-scale tapestry. The pink tapestry is ceiling above the Bedroom, changing the lighting into a pink hue. Under the glaring pink hue, the viewer is greeted with objects reminiscing of an American girlhood and/or sexual occasion. Like stepping into an aestheticized hoarder’s home, no surface is spared for displaying objects: bras, baby shoes, My Little Ponys, Barbie Dolls, dildos, vibrators, a book titled Lesbian Sex, and fairy lights shaped in penises, just to name a few. 

An excellent addition to the exhibition is the scent design by Marissa Zappas. The perfume artist, in collaboration with Munson and created the site-specific scent to evoke plastic doll heads, sweet makeup powder, strawberry candy, and something slightly more unnerving underneath. A phantom smell of a plastic doll drenched in artificial sweets brings forward distant childhood memories while the viewers are confronted with the subject of fetish and sexuality.

Additionally to the installation, the exhibition also features Munson's two-dimensional and sculptural works that are visually easier to digest but equally uneasy. Munson’s drawings had a more delicate approach where the artist builds a ghostly image of the sexualized everyday object on a white ground with graphite pencils. For her oil still-life, Munson uses a voluminous amount of solvent to thin out the oil paint, which mutes the vibrating colors of her works. The thinned-out paint and illustrations approach gives the painting the quality of a vintage print echoing the theme of collecting from the artist's practice.  The maximalist outlook of the entire exhibition creates opportunities for infinite interpretation of the artist's work and easily keeps its viewer captivated.

It is notable that the exhibition is subject to the Museum of Sex admission. The admission includes an entree to its exhibitions and the immersive experiences of Superfunland, and there are no options to only visit the galleries.