It’s not everyday that this writer is greeted by a parade of dental dams, leather whips and bobbing dildos poised like birds-of-paradise. But such was the giddy scene at the entrance to the salacious Museum of Sex. Then and there, the ubiquitous theme of erotica, blazing like a siren call, hit this writer like an epiphany.
Blatant and otherwise, the fascination with coitus in art, is afoot and running rampant in lower Manhattan.
Right: Leonor Fini’s “The Blind Ones (Les Aveugles)” 1968 Oil on canvas at “Leonor Fini: Theatre of Desire, 1930-1990)” at The Museum of Sex, New York
It’s not everyday that this writer is greeted by a parade of dental dams, leather whips and bobbing dildos poised like birds-of-paradise. But such was the giddy scene at the entrance to the salacious Museum of Sex. Then and there, the ubiquitous theme of erotica, blazing like a siren call, hit this writer like an epiphany. Blatant and otherwise, the fascination with coitus in art, is afoot and running rampant in lower Manhattan.
Erotica appears in the works of Leonor Fini in “Leonor Fini’s: Theatre of Desire, 1930-1990” at the Museum of Sex, https://www.museumofsex.com/portfolio_page/leonor-fini/ Postmaster’s “Glamour Modeling” with Alex McLeod and “NSFW” with Tina Lugo and Ana Benaroya. http://www.postmastersart.com/ and at The New Museum’s “Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel” https://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/sarah-lucas. From a standpoint of outright shock to furtive flirtation, artists use paint, enamel on glass, photography, found material and video animation to explore sensuality and self awareness shotgun style.
The Leonor Fini retrospective, enveloped in a gallery made more seductive by the use of recessed lighting, heightens mysterious undercurrents already at play. Sensuality abounds: In “A Great Curiosity…”, Fini meditates on the pleasure of voyeurism. An androgynous character stands in a split room where the walls are covered with various figures. The protagonist looks through a peephole to spy into an adjoining room with an empty armchair. The viewer wonders what this person sees and if we are missing out on something profound.
Left: “A Great Curiosity (Une grande curiosite)”, 1983 Oil on canvas
“While this observer is entirely absorbed in the act of looking, viewers of the painting become voyeurs themselves as we gaze upon the ample curves of the character’s flesh and long hair. Presenting a voyeuristic scene of voyeurism, this work captures Fini’s sense of erotic play…” – Statement, The Museum of Sex
Fini expounds on the pleasure of looking in “The Alcove/Self-Portrait with Nico Papatakis”. Entirely undraped, a man sleeps soundlessly while a female figures keeps watch. Light and undulating silken fabrics draw the eye to the center of his torso. Nico is a slip of a youth; he takes on androgynous features. Fini chooses to interlock the figures in a play of light and dark, black and white and cups the model in a repetition of rounded ample forms. It is what is left unsaid that makes this painting pregnant with meaning.
Right: “The Alcove/Self-Portrait with Nico Papatakis ( L’Alcove/Autoportrait avec Nico Papatakis)” 1941 Oil on canvas
Women on top
Rounded ample forms can be found in abundance in the vibrant paintings of artist Ana Benaroya at Postmaster’s “NSFW”. Hothouse hues call out like a siren: Lemon yellow, cerulean, fuchsia. Sinuous phallic symbols weave in and out and the eye travels the canvas like a ball in a pinball machine. Fiery figures provoke and rough-house it in “Double Pussy” and “I Have an Idea”. It’s an erotic slip and slide/push and pull in ribald fashion.:“When I create an image, I am funneling all the pent up anger I have about being a woman in this world. I extend, expand, and distort the human figure to my will to depict power dynamics that I believe are in play within society. The bodies I paint and draw are an extension of my own body. They are my alter‐ego, my inner desires, fantasies, and nightmares. With each image I create, the aim is to make myself laugh, to feel better, it is a cathartic release.” – Statement, Ana Benaroya
“Ribald” can best be applied to Tina Lugo’s erotically charged paintings. Her illustrations, small in scale and rich with texture, deliver explicit messages. The inclusion of handmade paper reveals an attention to detail. Women dominate and figures frolic and cavort; a figure in “Gold Star” (2018) winces while being branded. The captive is restrained with an eager erection. “Puppy – Play” (2018) includes two women cavorting with a blindfolded dog. The artists makes interesting choices by inserting a pillow/prop designed with dog biscuits. Lugo’s uninhibited approach to subject matter is bodacious and humorous. This designer and tattoo artist extrapolates on the theme of women in charge:
“I want to show powerful women taking control of their sexual bodies. The core of my work is to express kink, desire, sexuality, sexualization, loss of innocence and how and why we develop these fetishes…It’s important to educate people that we can enjoy many different types of sex and not be seen as “victims.” – Statement, Tina Lugo
“I always admired animation cells and the process it takes. I wanted to implement that in my work. There’s a crisp cartoony quality and the feeling of watching it on a screen. I think that’s what I most want to emulate. The way colors are punched up because of the layers of glass between it. It catches you off guard, something that has a feeling of being playful and yet has darker undertones to its imagery… [The use of glass] gives a glossy finish similar to that of a toy or a mirror, echoing unnameable things within ourselves”.
Glossy finishes and unnameable things appear in abundance in the beautiful work of Toronto-based artist Alex McLeod. Postmasters’s “Glamour Modeling” is hypnotic. A visitor to the gallery is mesmerized by a succession of videos, a cadence of metal clinking, continuous tapping, and the full force of wide-angle photography. Fascinated with simulation and the transition of matter, Alex presents a group of short animated videos and multi-paneled photographs.
Video of “Tryophobia”, Digital Video, Postmasters Gallery
NPC/s (Non-Player Characters) “[mutate] into themselves in the endless cycle of life and rebirth these looping videos exist in the liminal space between sculpture and sentience.” – Statement, Postmasters
“The traditional role of the NPC in a game environment is to provide the player with an antagonist to compete against and act upon within some form of a narrative. With recent advances in computing and artificial intelligence, the AI that powers NPCs is reaching complex new heights. The NPC in high-budget games go to a virtual home, have virtual families, behave according to programmed morals and experience simulated fear. The figures in McLeod’s digital animations and prints focus on circumscribed sections of their emotional spectrum. They stare at themselves, acknowledging both their trapped position, and their awareness of it. – Statement, Alex McLeod
Anthropomorphic characters, ornamented with gold ribbing and sporting wiry cuffs, spin, walk, jump, twirl and repeat. Entrapped in insular worlds, they stay fixated on an object or shrink into themselves. Spirited and quirky, they inhabit cells of sky-blue, turquoise and Jackson Pollock pink:
Videos of “NRV” and “Cary Turn” respectively 2017 Digital Video, Postmasters Gallery[
Fixation on anatomy and an absence of figures is notable in the sculptures of English maverick Sarah Lucas. The New Museum’s landmark retrospective takes its namesake from her piece “Au Naturel” 1994. (below) Lucas uses the soft sculpture vocabulary to refer to body parts and desire. “Au Naturel” encapsulates the image of lovers with an economy of materials.
“Ms. Lucas’s most famous object is also here, providing a title for the exhibition: “Au Naturel” (1994) is a simple but powerful sculpture. A dirty folded mattress slouches against the wall, like a seated human body. Inserted into rough openings on the surface of the mattress are two oranges and a cucumber, suggesting male genitalia, and two honeydew melons and a scuffed bucket, representing a woman. The work is effective, drawing from the Ed and Nancy Kienholz school of deadpan sculpture, made with junk or household objects, but also Picasso’s way of sketching bodies or still lifes with a few deft objects or lines. Its title suggests sexy, pastoral nudism. The reality is starker, grittier and a bit depressing.” – “Is Sarah Lucas Right for the #MeToo Moment?” by By Martha Schwendener The New York Times October 16, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/16/arts/design/sarah-lucas-review-new-museum-art.html
Video of “Mumum” A cluster of breastlike forms made of fluff-filled stockings 2012, The New Museum, New York
With the use of found objects to video animation, artists explore sexuality from every angle. The contribution is staggering in breadth of scale and sheer bravado. It is thrilling to note the proliferation of capable women artists who dominate the scene in more ways than one. Victorious in the bedroom and victorious in the studio, women artists assert their vision leaving our male contemporaries wagging (ahem) for more! You want some of this? Come and get it!