Féminin-Masculin, le sexe de l'art
Centre Georges Pompidou
From October 25th to the 12th of February
This massive exhibition, containing some 500 works of art by 100 artists,
is a bit titillating and certainly instructional in its complex sexual maneuvers,
full with the beatitudes, ecstasies, and dazzling reverberations of sexual
encounters. It's underlying assumption is replete with a social sexual freedom
which no longer exists and it is this general feeling which provides us
with its basic pleasure as well as its fissure. And for this I can exceptionally
recommend it. But at the same time I must point out its short comings, which
are grave as concerns the digital on-line audience for whom I ostensibly
The exhibition portends to show the coexistence of two genealogies in the
art of this century where sex is concerned: one beginning with Picasso which
falls within the classic and Hegelian tradition of sexual opposition established
as a dialectical, organic opposition of masculine & feminine vigor.
The other, stems from Duchamp as he initiates an unsymmetrical discernment
that spreads a bounty of potent and effeminate energies to bring about a
deterritorialization of physique, identity and appearance. In other words,
a ride in Duchamp's Machines Célibataires/Bachelor Machines, which
are clearly autoerotic and subversive - as within their mechanics desire
is no longer subordinated to lack, but becomes a simulated end in itself.
Given the exhibitions spew of explicit sexual images, one may thank the
French once again for their social-sexual candor and maturity as this is
a show I imagine impossible to mount (pun intended) in the current repressive
cultural/political climate of the U.S.A. as well as many other countries
throughout the world. In its inherent Frenchness it also can be contextualized
as an out growth of French surrealism and as a continuation of such demonstrative
exhibitions as "Eros", an exhibition organized by Marcel Duchamp
and André Breton in 1959. In fact a good deal of today's contemporary
art stars look outright mainstream surrealist in its context.
The show which proclaims to be in opposition to the current reigning "ideology
of melancholy" was curated by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Bernard Marcadé
and is organized into 5 sections/sexions: The Origin of the World, Identities
& Mascarades, Stories of the Eye, Attractions & Repulsions, and
Natural Histories. Within this labyrinth one can see some great works of
art from this and the last century along with some mediocre but trendy new
art which typically lacks sensuality. Some of the great pieces are Gustave
Courbet's "L'Origine du monde" 1866, Antonin Artaud's "La
Maladresse sexuelle de dieu" 1946, Marcel Duchamp's "La Mariée"
1912 and a reconstruction of his "La Mariée mise à nu
par ses célibataires, même" (the large glass), Hans Bellmer's
"Phallus" 1963, his "Unica, l'oeil sexe" 1961 and 6
prints illustrating "Histoire de l'oeil" by Georges Bataille 1944.
One also sees a plethora of Louise Bourgeois including her great "Twosome"
1991. She kicks off the show with this truly massive mechanical black metal
dick which plunges repetitively into a red flashing hole. I also enjoyed
some wonderfully large double-headed dildos called "Parenthesis"
1975 from Lynda Benglis, three good Rebecca Horns, Man Rays, Roberto Matta,
loads of Annette Messager, a frantically fucking tiny mechanical Nam June
Paik, and Mapplethorpe's impressive "Man in a Polyester Suit"
1981 which is hung at eye level......in your face. Creamy Picassos depicting
creamy fucks are placed everywhere and the majestic Carolee Schneemann "Vulva's
Morphia" 1981-1995 is very well positioned. The discovery for me of
the self-dramatizing and gender-bending self photographic works of Claude
Cahun from the 1920s came as somewhat of a revelation with their precedent
for the Cindy Shermanesque lets dress up and make-believe shtick. Also there
are wonderfully disturbing pieces by Jana Sterbak, and Rosemarie Trockel
and the poetic and loving presence of Kiki Smith's "Train" 1993
which closes the show with its transformation of menstrual blood into strings
of rubies. Artists missing from the show were many of the less than art
star name brands which have mined this rich vain for years but have been
overlooked by the art market matrix which circulates and sanctifies the
unrisky choices the curators made in terms of newer or under known artists.
In this sense they really did practice safe sex.
More to the point, where the show comes up short is just where sexual representation
has really gone today, where it is really happening these days, on-line.
The general public has become increasingly aware of the value of electronic
space as a space for personal sex transformation, communication, play, learning,
Older cultural artistic notions of sex representation, as those exhibited
here, do not adapt to the needs of the new post-biological, electronic,
and online global sensibility.
Electronic post-biological sex increasingly embodies qualities of open-endedness
and participatory sensory immersion of the sexing subject and of intensive
interactivity and connectivity from which new material emerges and from
which the really new art evolves. The subconscious and sublimated sex impulse
now is on the global net, digitally formed and interfaced to increasingly
smart and sexy materials and intelligent applications. We await true immersive
virtual reality technology to take us where we want to go, which is all
the way to meet all the "people" we can imagine we want to fuck.
The new art exhibiting institutions we need must constitute networks of
fluid, flowing open systems, supporting the qualities of open-endedness
and emergence, and encouraging connectivity at all levels. This should have
been the model for this exhibition, not the safe and staid one they toiled
It is through cybersex that we can best apprehend the processes of sexual
emergence in the image-flow, the invisible forces and fields of our many
desires. We cyberceive transformative relationships and connectivity as
immaterial process, just as palpably and immediately as we commonly perceive
material bodies in actual locations. The cyber-sex-net is also the agent
of realization and construction, embracing a multiplicity of electronic
pathways to digital sexual systems. And in so far as men and women inhabit
parallel worlds, and open up divergent trajectories, cybersex may enable
us to become simultaneously conscious of them all, or at least to zap at
will across multiple sex universes, which was not true in the museum, though
it is a worthy place to meet potential actual sex partners.
And so, just as the organization of the show Féminin-Masculin demonstrates,
before we thought, saw and fucked people in a linear manner, one after another
(generally speaking), one women hidden behind another, one man behind the
next and along the way dividing the world up into categories and classes
of people: people with impermeable boundaries, bodies with penetrable interiors.
In the new reality, it's a matter of high speed sexual feedback, access
to massive sex databases, interaction with a multiplicity of mind-genital
complexes - seeing with a thousand eyes, reaching into the enormity of our
mental sex space, even to the edge of the globe. Cybersex is the antithesis
of the museum's constricted tunnel love and of the curator's restricted
linear thought. It is an all-at-once perception of a multiplicity of sexual
positions, an extension in all dimensions to all people that allows us to
interact fully with the values of our age of appearance.
Contemporary cybersex and shopping are becoming more or less the same thing.
Each fuckable person is a prettified and packaged product, each component
chosen from a catalogue. And we shall increasingly screw in two worlds,
the real and the virtual, yet these worlds still interconnect at many points.
Cybersex heightens transpersonal experience and is the defining behavior
of a transpersonal erotic art. Cybersex involves transpersonal technology,
the technology of communication, sharing, collaborating--the technology
that enables us to transform our selves, transfer our fantasies, and transcend
the limitations of our bodies. Pity the curators were not hip to this. Yet
still they assembled an erotic art show worth anyone's while and quintessentially