Nietzsche Lily (Men as Sex Objects Series, #3)
“It is only the shallow person who does not judge by appearances.” Oscar Wilde
Oil on linen,
48” x 72”
On the “Men as Sex Objects of Desire” series…
Allegedly, sexism is dead, feminism passé. According to Susan Faludi’s article, “American Electra,” published in Harper’s October 2010 issue, feminism today manifests as bodily display and pop-culture friendly theory that is more about “being seen” (often in explicitly sexual presentations)– using a commercialized “ersatz” liberation – a “cosmetic revolt,” positing a world where pseudo rebellions are mounted but never won nor desired to be won, where “liberation” begins and ends with wordplay and pop-culture pastiche and fishnet stockings, all needs are suckled and satisfied on the bountiful (and wonderfully pert) commercial breast, and where Lady Gaga reigns as high priestess and barometer of neo-feminism.
ArtNews (December 2010) published Lilly Wei’s article, “The Great American (Male) Nude: Turning the Tables on Art-Historical Tradition, More Women are Depicting the Naked Male Body,” wherein she chronicles the general failure of contemporary female artists to paint male nudes, noting the overwhelming majority of women painting the nude human form still prefer to remain in a closed loop dialogue endlessly focused upon the naked female form. Those few women artists who have actually chosen to paint the nude male have typically sought to change the discourse, taking the “high road” with a less explicit, less exploitative gaze. Lilly Wei quotes New York-based artist Brenda Zlamary on the challenges of painting the male nude: “The penis is the last sacred cow, the last taboo. People tend to get stuck on one thing with male nudes – the penis – and they can’t get beyond it.” And about her full male nude portrait of Leonardo Drew, Zlamary comments “… I’ve never been able to show it. It’s too confrontational, too explosive. I have been told by certain galleries and collectors that no one really wants to see male nudes….”
The playing field is apparently almost entirely bereft of women artists willing to paint naked men explicitly as sex objects in the same spirit that men have painted women for centuries—the same spirit in which many men continue to paint women today. The viewing audience is equally sparse, at best indeterminate. I have opted to take a hard (pun intended) look at the subject. Assuming arguendo that sexism is indeed a thing of the past, it follows that when the female nude is painted today as a sex object by a contemporary male artist, no pejorative interpretation of overreaching or chauvinism need be read into the act or result; likewise, when a female artist performs the mirror act and result of painting male nudes as sex objects no stigma of sexism nor suggestion of exploitation need be invoked either (irony, perhaps, but certainly not sexism or exploitation). Indeed, patronizing concerns of ghettoization of the female canons being reterritorialized into a minority state are inapplicable if women are asserting full rights in the primary territory, “equal play” rights, as it were: no anemic victimized “being seen” response, but a gusty full-blooded equal indulgence instead, gaze for gaze.
My works in this series embrace Lacan’s hint of possibilities emerging from “monstrous couplings,” Deleuze’s ruptures promising regime change, Lyotard’s vision of art’s potential to communicate radical alterity before any conceptualization. As Malraux said, “The artist is not the transcriber of the world, he is its rival.” So is she.