Valentina Vaccarella at No Gallery / New York

Valentina
Vaccarella,
Bless This Life

March
24th
May
8th, 2022

Text
by Harry Tafoya

No Gallery – 105 Henry Street #4 NYC NY 

For
the billions of dollars wasted policing it, hot air spent condemning
it, and violence unleashed containing it, no authoritarian
government, religious order, or lone Travis Bickle throughout history
has ever succeeded at putting a halt to the world
s
oldest profession. Because approaching prostitution from the angle of
its
demand
would mean launching an investigation into the
sewer of male sexuality, the brunt of law enforcement has concerned
itself with
supply
instead, often with devastating results for the
women involved. Even though the law remains virtually untouched,
social media has granted sex workers their largest public ever, both
humanizing them on a never-before-seen scale and rebranding their
services as another kind of freelancer; the more ambitious and flashy
among them might even be called
girlbosses”.

Because
they operate deeper in the shadows and outsource their dirtiest work
to others, madams have not seen the slightest bump to their
reputations. Many who hold ostensibly pro-sex work beliefs would balk
at the idea of even giving them the time of day, usually opting for
another less lady-like term to describe their dealings:
 pimps.
If the jobs are similar in description, for the women that Valentina
Vaccarella surveys in her show,
 Bless
This Life
 at No Gallery, its
completely opposite in spirit. To quote the legendary LA brothel
keeper, Madam Alex,
This
is a woman
s business. When a woman does
it, it
’s fun, theres
a
 giggle in
it; when a man
s involved, he’s sleazy,
he
s a pimp.
He may know how to keep girls in line, and he may make money, but he
doesn
t know what I do.

What
Vaccarella
s women did with and for their
escorts was more complex than simply selling them off. Madame Claude
gave them makeovers and etiquette lessons, Deborah Jeane Palfrey
insisted they be gainfully employed, Heidi Fleiss threw them a
never-ending party. Business was business, but escorting at its
highest end could be a waystation and finishing school, an
opportunity for girls to not only make money but to hone the skills
which would finally land them the ultimate security: a stable
marriage to a wealthy man. Beneath the glamour of extravagant gifts,
destination gigs, and celebrity clientele, many of Vaccarella
s
subjects shared a steely, unforgiving realism about intimacy and
money that was stepped in their own experiences of economic
desperation and bad romance. Men had money and women had their
bodies, which were valuable but depreciating assets. Marriage was the
ultimate prize, which in its manipulations of intimacy was akin to
whoring anyway. For others who didn
t
share in this belief, the thrill of pulling in money and exercising
their business acumen was just as addictive. Whether in dire straits
(Anna Gristina, Madame Claude) or flush with new money (Kristin
Davis, Heidi Fleiss), the enterprise of being a madam became an
all-consuming occupation.

Painted
with matte on
 heirloom French linens
embroidered with the initials of husbands and wives, Valentina
Vaccarella
s works capture the lives they
carved out for themselves over the lives expected of them. The
distortions from the artist
s process
resemble rips pulled straight from the gossip magazines, a formal
echo of their much-documented downfalls in tabloids. Vaccarella
s
eye for detail, the steely glam of Madame Claude and the full-body
vulnerability of the doomed Deborah Jeane Palfrey make for a series
of icons that might be reconsidered yet.