Chris Antemann

Chris Antemann

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Chris Antemann, Photo/Hunter Barnes

Chris Antemann's figural porcelain vignettes, such as her 2007 piece Gather, are naughty, full of quasi-18th-century harlots and housemaids cavorting with naked suitors.

It's funny, selling her work," says Leslie Ferrin, one of her dealers. "Viewers approach it thinking it's some sort of [innocuous] figurine. They end up tongue-tied." No wonder people who buy one often tuck it away in a private spot in the master bedroom or bath.

An homage to traditional European and Asian figurines (think Staffordshire, Meissen, Delft), Antemann's exquisitely detailed little domestic mise-en-scènes are really about relationships-particularly between women, as sisters or rivals- hence the erotic as well as emotional charge.

"Men always say to me, 'You don't know what you're making!' And I say, 'Oh yes, I do,' " the 37-year-old Antemann explains. "It's about intimacy, which men think means sex. But not to me." Her characters (girly women, slightly androgynous men) interact in ambiguous situations. Their facial expressions and body language are subtle, open to interpretation: does the maid really want to take part in a ménage à trois or just drink her cup of tea? Antemann invites us to make up our own stories.

Under their frilly, frivolous veneer, the pieces can be biting and provocative, if not overtly feminist or political. "For a while," Antemann says, "my work was a one-liner. You'd look at it and get it pretty quickly. I wanted it to become more layered." Instead of just parodying the figurine, "I'd rather be posing a question. I'm throwing a little idea out there, which could be funny. But it also could be serious." Ferrin compares her to Cindy Sherman, as "an artist working with contemporary issues of gender and sexuality, in a format that allows her to reference history while making social commentary."

As her work gets more technically proficient and refined, Antemann's been hitting her stride with some intensely focused studio time. For Ferrin's booth at SOFA Chicago, she did a series on traditional master-servant roles. For December's Bridge Art Fair Miami, she had in mind something "a bit lighter, fluffier, fashion and vanity mingled with romance and kitsch"-or, as she merrily puts it, "fashion and jugs, boobs and shoes, rack and ruin!"