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Art Is Sexy

Last month I went and checked out the Body and Politics exhibit at the Walker. Here, one could see a ton of work created by artists ranging from Picasso to Darger to O’Keefe. There was an air of intimacy being that it was a fairly small gallery space. One could observe, and somewhat understand the cultural and social significance of the work because of the gallery’s size. The show was a bombarding array of sexuality, nudity, discomfort, and beauty…and it was sexy.

One of the first pieces I confronted was a stark black and white woodcut. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff’s “Large Prophetess?, 1919, is a woman’s portrait with no real understanding of the anatomical constructions of a natural face. Rather, it’s more of an exotic conception of another people. The portrait resembles that of a tribal mask, that is, it carries hard angles, a long, narrow nose, wide, almond shaped eyes and a very narrow face. This work seemed as if it was attempting to portray a different culture from his own, while retaining his own individual style. However, it is very familiar for artists of that time to construct ethnicity based on their perception of that ethnicity. That is, to never have experienced that culture, but assume of it, and create. Obviously this leads to unconvincing portraitures that perpetuate a perceived notion of a people; forever being classified as “the Other?.
Continuing on among empowering, degrading, perplexing works of art, I stopped at a wretched portrayal of a woman. At first thinking it was silly, I looked deeper into the possible focus of this piece. Picasso’s 1937 work, “La Femme qui Pleure, I (The Woman Who Cries)? emphasizes his later-year cubist style. It shows the disorganized dimensions of a woman, who, according to the title, is crying. As mentioned, this work is highly disorganized, showing great chaos in line and dimension. Although there is always some lack of perfection in cubism, this work seemed highly tumultuous (contrast this work with “Portraits of Jacqueline?). Further, this woman looks barbaric, and unkempt, and just down right disgusting. It’s not a beautiful depiction of woman by any means. Pair this observation with the title of the work, and my mind screams. Perhaps this work toys with that age-old notion of women being “docile? and perfect. In whatever case, she certainly ain't beauty.
Today seeing nudity and “racy? art is expected. However, when Egon Schiele was alive and kicking his work was quite controversial. Known for his, not only nude, but also pornographic work, he existed well before his time. At the Walker, there was only a sketch of two women figures embracing which dated to 1917. Highly provocative in sexuality, it also was a very homosexual representation of relationship. This is especially profound because of it’s period-the early 1900’s. This work stood out to me, because it was unclear whether this was objectifying the woman body, and playing into male fantasies of sex between two women. On the contrary, it also was an empowering image, and gave liberality to sex, nudity, and homosexuality. Although it was only a sketch (and his other works are far more interesting-check ‘em out), it was still an enigmatic piece that got me questioning.
Although this show was not a direct reference to womanhood, homosexuality, femininity, masculinity, etcetera, it encompassed all of them gloriously. It allowed for viewers to get out of their comfort zones a little bit and critically look at these works, wonder about them, and get a little awkward. Artwork is an amazing lens for history. It demonstrates social constructions, and maybe tries to ruffle the edges a little bit. At least the good art does that.