An eye-catching display devoted to ditching the dieting trend is in the Biddle Avenue window of River’s Edge Gallery.
By Melissa Ptak Moline
Rather than make a New Year’s resolution, artist Brenda Oelbaum is starting a revolution.
Oelbaum spent three days assembling the Willendorf Project in the front window of River’s Edge Gallery. She hopes the display, titled “My New Year’s Revolution,” inspires viewers to skip resolutions this year.
“When you fight who you are supposed to be, you make yourself worse,” she said.
In this installation, Oelbaum uses thousands of donated diet books, her papier-mâché Venuses and words painted in red on the window as props. The centerpiece of the display is the life-sized photo of Oelbaum posing nude, using nothing but diet books for modesty.
Oelbaum says the installation is not about her or her nudity. But rather, it’s about getting people to think and talk about the diet industry, she said.
“Look at this huge industry, see how big it is,” she said. “See how much time we invest in this industry that doesn’t do what it promises.”
The Venus sculptures are fashioned completely out of pages from diet books written by authors such as Jane Fonda, Dr. Phil and Richard Simmons. Oelbaum doesn’t have a favorite Venus, but says most people favor the Venus made of Jane Fonda diet book pages.
Gallery owner Patt Slack agrees, saying the Jane Fonda papier-mâché Venus is her favorite part of the display, noting the leg warmers. Slack also favors the Jane Fonda Venus because, she says, “I know what she has been through.”
The Willendorf Project is installation art, something that River’s Edge Gallery hasn’t displayed to this extent before.
“A lot of people think we’ve turned into a book store,” Slack said. “People aren’t used to installation art. It’s a really new concept to main street.”
Slack has owned River’s Edge Gallery for 30 years and says she has had more reaction from this installation than any other display.
The inspiration for the Willendorf Project came to Oelbaum 10 years ago when she saw a weight loss commercial that used an image of the sculpture, Venus of Willendorf. Oelbaum felt the sculpture, which is traditionally a symbol of fertility, was used as a visual image to hurt women and found it offensive.
“We need to be more accepting that people come in different shapes and sizes,” she said. “It’s so easy to flip and doubt yourself when the world is telling you you’re wrong.”
Five years ago, she began collecting donated diet books. By the fall of 2007, the diet books filled her studio, reaching all the way to the ceiling. Oelbaum posed nude with the collection of books for the photo that later became part of the Willendorf Project.
In May 2008, The Willendorf project debuted at a Women’s Caucus for Art exhibition at the University of Michigan that focused on women’s health.
Slack and Oelbaum met through the art caucus and agree they had an immediate mutual love for each other.
“When I met her, I thought, ‘This woman is a genius and I must have part of her,'” Slack said. “She was doing something different and enlightening and wonderful.”
Both Slack and Oelbaum thought placing an emphasis on revolution rather than resolution was a perfect theme to start the New Year. Slack said other artists in her gallery have been inspired by the revolution and are revolting through their own art.
“It’s an experience,” Slack said. “People are supposed to talk about it. It opens the door to talking about art.”
Oelbaum’s ultimate vision for the Willendorf Project is creating a maze with paths representing different eating disorders. She wants to include an audio aspect to the project with headphones guiding people on an eating disorder journey.
While Oelbaum says people could buy pieces of “My New Year’s Revolution,” the cost per piece would be pretty steep as they are part of a project. Other pieces of her work, titled “In Emergency Break Glass,” are for sale at the gallery.
How does Oelbaum feel about Wyandotte?
“I like it,” she said. “I love the gallery. There is so much to see. You see something new every time you go in. It is like a visual orgasm. Everyone who comes in is a friend and Patt is so warm.”
“My New Year’s Revolution” officially opens Friday. Oelbaum plans to celebrate the opening by hosting “The Great Rip Up,” where guests are invited to bring diet books to rip up. The ripped pages will be part of a new creation, an Oelbaum Venus.
The opening coincides with Wyandotte’s Third Friday celebration, and the gallery will be serving refreshments.
You can witness the revolution in person now until Feb. 18 at River’s Edge Gallery
It’s really great to be understood!!! thanks again Melissa…you rock!!! and SPARKLE!!!
Follow up article
Opening Proves Rip-Roaring Success
Guests become participants in art and rip up their diet books at The Great Rip Up at River’s Edge Gallery.
Art enthusiasts filled River’s Edge Gallery Friday night despite freezing temperatures to attend the opening of Brenda Oelbaum’s display, “My New Year’s Revolution.”
Oelbaum celebrated the opening by hosting The Great Rip Up, an event for guests to bring diet books and rip them up.
Oelbaum will use the ripped pages to make a new Venus.
Guests were invited to write down their own new year’s revolutions or comments on paper and hang them on gallery walls.
Irina Haralambis, a photography student at Wayne State University, saw the Willendorf Project installed in the River’s Edge Gallery window on her way to work at Bella Donna’s in downtown Wyandotte.
She recently learned about the Venus of Willendorf statue in art history class, and Oelbaum’s Venuses in the gallery window caught her eye. She said Oelbaum’s display is incredible. Haralambis explored the gallery and spent the majority of her night participating in The Great Rip Up.
Haralambis said ripping up diet books felt empowering.
“I feel like I’m empowering myself and any woman who has felt self-conscious.” Haralambis said. “It takes a lot to feel comfortable with yourself. I still struggle with it.”
Several members of Women’s Caucus for Art attended the opening, including Oelbaum’s friend, Margaret Parker of Ann Arbor.
Parker attended a show in August at River’s Edge Gallery and said she thought it was a pretty cool place with lots of energy and people coming in.
“I think it’s great to have a gallery that encourages people to do out-there and wild things in their front window,” Parker said.
Parker spent time ripping diet books at the opening.
“I think it’s amazing to do a project that invited people to participate,” she said.
Parker said the Willendorf Project is fantastic and has loved watching it grow. She said Oelbaum has a great sense of humor, which has helped her work reach audiences while tackling very serious subjects.
Gallery owner Patt Slack was pleased with the opening and The Great Rip Up.
“I thought it was really good.” Slack said. “I really enjoyed people’s reaction to interaction. People want to be part of it.”
Amanda Levitt, founder of Love Your Body Detroit, came to the opening to experience the revolution and support fat activism.
“People deserve the fundamental right to do what you want with your body,” she said. “Fat rights help all people”.
Eliza Neuman, a Wyandotte native visiting from Seattle, came in to the gallery specifically to see “My New Year’s Revolution.”
“I’m totally into the celebration of the anti-anorexic image,” Neuman said.
Oelbaum said she enjoyed meeting people she did not know and making connections with them and other members of the Women’s Caucus for Art. She said the gallery did a wonderful job promoting the event and she was glad people got into ripping up diet books.
“It was a blast,” Oelbaum said.
Oelbaum recently found out the Willendorf Project has been invited to the Dirty Show in Detroit in February.
She was initially hesitant because her statement with her nude picture wasn’t meant to be seen as dirty.
The more Oelbaum thought about it, she said the invite was justified. She said, “The diet industry is a dirty industry.”
You can experience “My New Year’s Revolution” now through Feb. 18 at River’s Edge Gallery.
You may also see the Willendorf Project at the Dirty Show from Feb. 11-19 at Bert’s Warehouse in Eastern Market in Detroit.