Featuring contributions by 18 living artists, the showcase explores the shifting notion and experience of sex through a variety of artistic mediums
Whether wrapped up in clothes or nude, throughout the history of visual art nothing has ever been more omnipresent than the human body. Depicted as either an object of or a vessel for human desire, the body has progressively come to signify the existence of a realm dictated by instinctive sexual drives. Traditionally associated with eroticism, through the centuries the portrayal of the nude body has also been used to consolidate the predominant ways of interpreting and experiencing gender and sexuality.
Today, artists are looking at the human body as “a charged and fluid-meaning making agent” capable of disrupting the patriarchal, normative, and binaristic understanding of the sexual sphere. Having this very vision at its core, a recently inaugurated exhibition at New York’s Museum of Sex gathers a collection of artworks exploring the limitless limits of the erotic universe.
Launched on June 10 and open until October 11, F*CK ART: the body & its absence is an art show bringing together the work of 18 living artists to investigate the infinite possibilities of sex, desire, and arousal. With a biennale-inspired format, the exhibition draws on the museum’s first-ever F*CK ART show (2013) to encourage a new uninhibited discussion around “art history’s preoccupation with the nude figure and rejection of the pornographic”. Featuring a majority of gender variant and queer artists, the showcase offers visitors a thought-provoking glimpse into eroticism in our current moment by bringing themes such as intimacy, fantasy, and longing to the forefront of the artistic discourse.
Informed by Anne Carson’s exploration of love, Eros the Bittersweet, F*CK ART: the body & its absence speaks of the body’s ability to influence by both its appearance and nonappearance. As the Canadian poet, essayist, and professor explains in her seminal book, “all human desire is poised on an axis of paradox, absence and presence its poles”; similarly, the artworks on display as part of the exhibition position themselves on the same continuum by either showing or subtly referencing the human figure through a variety of mediums, including performance, sculpture, film, photography, ceramics, painting, drawing, fiber arts, and new media.
Described by curators Eve Arballo and Emily Shoyer as an intentionally subversive, irriverent show, the exhibition features work by Alexandra Neuman, AlinaPerez, Cajsa von Zeipel, Casey Kauffmann, cherry brice jr., Clifford Prince King, Coyote Park, ErinM. Riley, Jimena Croceri, Justin Yoon, Kayode Ojo, Marie Karlberg, Motoko Ishibashi,Nicki Green, Pacifico Silano, Pixy Liao, Tao Siqi, and Victoria Dugger.
Talking about the antithesis presence-absence — a key aspect of this new F*CK ART — Arballo and Shoyer explain that this theme emerged organically as they pulled inspirations for the showcase in galleries, museums as well as online. “When it came to exploring themes such as sex and eroticism, we started to notice a trend; artists would either present viewers with a full-frontal nude body, often depicted in sexual acts, or with an obliquely referred to and touched upon erotic body which, however, wasn’t fully present,” they say.
“From there, we began to ponder a number of questions, the most urgent of which were: does the body need to be present for something to be erotic? How is eroticism subjectively registered by people and artists? What does that say about the malleability and fluidity of the body as a meaning-making agent? But also, what does that say about the contours of arousal and desire in our current moment? A moment where artists are really able to play, push, and expand our horizons of what we can think about as erotic.”
According to the curators, the contrasting duality of the erotic art on show at F*CK ART is best exemplified by two of the artworks specifically created for the showcase, namely Alina Perez’s The Disappearing Act (2022) and Pacifico Silano’s Easy Rider (2022). “The Disappearing Act is a charcoal and pastel on paper piece featuring two female bodies — nude and full-frontal — in the midst of a sexual act. Though the work portrays one partner fisting the other, Perez’s aesthetic treatment of that scene is so delicate and beautiful that it is impossible not to be captured by it,” Arballo and Shoyer say.
“Pacifico Silano pulls from vintage gay erotica and porn, something that results clear in the piece that he created for this exhibition. In his practice, you never see a full body; instead, you are presented with motorcycles, sparkles, and portions of body — whether hands touching each other, legs, or partially visible faces. In his Easy Rider, sex is obliquely referenced through body parts. Both artists thus represent the show at large by either foregrounding the human figure or denying the viewer its individuality.”
As for the overall goal of the exhibition, Arballo and Shoyer point out how people’s individual experience of the show contributes to fueling a more authentic, constructive dialogue around sex, desire, and eroticism. “We want people to really find some meaning that relates to them personally and learn by spending time in the exhibition,” they say. “Our favourite moment in the curatorial process is actually seeing how the audience responds, having the privilege to see how our guests are appreciating the work or inquiring about it. Our audience is not like the traditional museum attending audience; it’s a mix of young people, tourists, and people that you wouldn’t find at other galleries. We hope that people will appreciate the work and what the artists have to say.”
F*CK ART: the body & its absence is open at the Museum of Sex, New York City, until October 11.