For Rhizome (

Féminin-Masculin, le sexe de l'art
@ Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
>From October 25th to the 12th of February, 1995-96
Joseph Nechvatal

Féminin-Masculin, le sexe de l'art's underlying assumption is replete with a
casual sexual freedom which no longer exists in our time of viral
affliction. Nevertheless, it is this general feeling of loss which provides
the show with its essential endowment.

Given the exhibition's spew of explicit sexual images, one may thank the
French once again for their social/sexual candor and maturity. Actually, I
imagine this show impossible to mount (pun intended) in the current
repressive cultural/political climate of the US of A - as well as many other
countries throughout the world. And for this I can particularly recommend

But at the same time, I must point out its short comings, which are grave as
concerns the on-line audience for whom I ostensibly write. Where the show
comes up short is just where sexual portraiture has really gone today -
on-line - as the public has become increasingly aware of the value of
electronic space as a space for sexual transformation; a transformation
encouraging connectivity at all levels. This electronic connectivity should
have been the exemplar for this exhibition, as increasingly we have sexual
experiences both in the actual and the virtual realm. But it was not.

Nevertheless, this massive exhibition at the Georges Pompidou Center -
containing some five hundred works of art teeming with the beatitudes,
ecstasies, and dazzling reverberations of sexual encounters by some one
hundred artists - is happily, at least, a bit titillating in its elaborate
sexual maneuvers in a more conservative way. The exhibition portends to show
the coexistence of two genealogies in the art of the 20th century as far as
sex is concerned. According to Marie-Laure Bernadac and Bernard Marcadé, the
curators, one tradition beginnings with Pablo Picasso. Indeed creamy late
Picassos depicting churning intercourse are placed intermittently throughout
the exhibition. This tradition falls within the classic Hegelian tradition
of sexual opposition established as a dialectical opposition of
masculine/feminine vigor. Cybersex, where onastic sex and on-line shopping
become more or less the same thing, is its antithesis.

The other tradition (the one more aligned with cybersex - as with cybersex
we may espouse a multiplicity of electronic pathways and open up divergent
trajectories - indeed, cybersex enables us to zap at will across multiple
sexual identities) stems from Marcel Duchamp as Duchamp initiated a
non-symmetrical intelligence that spreads prodigiously potent/effeminate
energies so as to bring about a deterritorialization of physique, identity,
and semblance. In other words, this tradition takes us on a wild ride in
Duchamp's autoerotic "Machines Célibataires" (Bachelor Machines), as within
the Bachelor Machines' mechanics desire is no longer subordinated to lack,
but becomes a simulated end in and for itself. This tradition can be further
contextualized as an outgrowth of the French dada/surrealist movement(s) and
as a continuation of such unrestrained exhibitions such as "Eros": an
exhibition which promoted qualities of open-ended emergence which was
organized by Marcel Duchamp and André Breton in 1959.

As well, the show - which proclaimed by the curators to be in opposition to
the current reigning "ideology of melancholy" - was organized into five
sections: "The Origin of the World", "Identities and Mascarades", "Stories
of the Eye", "Attractions and Repulsions", and "Natural Histories". These
categories were hard to follow and seemed unnecessary. But within this five
stemmed labyrinth one could see some great works of art from this and the
last century, along with some mediocre, trendy new art - art which typically
lacked sensuality. Some of the important pieces were 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), Bellmer's "Unica, l'oeil sexe" (1961) and
six prints by Bellmer illustrating the "Histoire de l'oeil" by Georges
Bataille (1944).

One also saw a plethora of Louise Bourgeois's work, including her great
"Twosome" (1991). Indeed she kicked off the show with this truly massive
mechanical black metal dick which plunged repetitively into a red flashing

I also enjoyed some wonderfully large, double-headed dildos called
"Parenthesis" (1975) from Lynda Benglis and three good Rebecca Horns. Too, I
saw and enjoyed works by Man Ray and Roberto Matta, and loads of Annette
Messager. Likewise I was taken in by Nam June Paik's tiny - but frantically
fucking - mechanical apparatus and by Robert Mapplethorpe's impressive "Man
in a Polyester Suit" photo (1981), which was hung at eye level in your face.

The seductive and rapaciously brazen Carolee Schneemann's significant piece
called "Vulva's Morphia" (1981-1995) was very well placed to advance the
cause of sexual liberation. Here one thinks back on the Dionysian-like
mystical impact of Schneemann's performances called "Meat Joy"; performances
which were heightened by the sexual implications of voluptuous, scantily
clad, people wallowing provocatively in paint and meat. Somewhat beyond the
truism that all sexual activity is about the mixing of gametes.

The discovery of the self-dramatizing and gender-bending self photographic
works of Claude Cahun from the 1920s came as somewhat of a revelation to me.
Also there were wonderfully disturbing pieces by Jana Sterbak and Rosemarie
Trockel to relish, and Kiki Smith's "Train" (1993) which closed the show
with its transformation of menstrual blood into strings of red rubies.

All that was admirable. But the problem with the exhibit, for me, was that
the cultural notions of sex exhibited here did not adapt nearly enough to
the new, electronic, on-line sensibility. Such an electronic-erotic art
sensibility would increasingly embody disembodied qualities of
open-endedness and participatory sensory immersion. With this sensibility
the point is to intensely interact and connect with sex through immersive
art. (My understanding of cybersexspace in this regard is indebted to Roy
Ascott. See: Ascott, Roy, "The Architecture of Cyberception," in Leonardo
Electronic Almanac, Volume 2, Number 8, MIT Press Journals, August 1994
and/or "Architects in Cyberspace," Toy, M., ed., Architectural Design,
London, 1995, pp. 38-41) As I stated at the beginning, it is through
cybersex that we can best apprehend the process of sex today with its
transformative relationships via connectivity. In the cybersex-based
sensibility, it's all about high-speed sexual input and fast entry into
extensive sex databases. Cybersex is an important missing metaphor because
it involves our current technology of communication - a technology that
enables us to conceptually transform and transcend the limitations of our