Art and Sexuality: Vagina Activism

It’s another controversy about Contemporary Art, and I wonder what my students would think: visitors to the Musée d’Orsay in the French capital came across an unexpected performance (if you would call it so) when a young woman suddenly sat down with her back to a famous painting, opened her legs and posed with her hands stretching her vagina open for the viewers.

This time it’s not Femen, not Marina Abramovic, but rather an average artist from Luxemburg called Deborah de Robertis, whose intervention last week sparked a heated debate that we all know too well: where are the limits? The borderline?

The ‘act’ took place at the hall where Gustave Courbet’s painting ‘The Origin of the World’ hangs on the wall, a painting that portrays a woman’s thighs, torso, and, at the centre of attention, her unshaven genitals. The Orsay website celebrate this masterpiece of Modern Art, and on its website they had this to say about it: “Courbet regularly painted female nudes, sometimes in a frankly libertine vein. But in The Origin of the World he went to lengths of daring and frankness which gave his painting its peculiar fascination. The almost anatomical description of female sex organs is not attenuated by any historical or literary device.”

But what was Deborah thinking when she recreated -in a way- the original painting through her performance? Well, here is what she had to say:
“There is a gap in art history, the absent point of view of the object of the gaze. In his realist painting, the painter shows the open legs, but the vagina remains closed. He does not reveal the hole, that is to say, the eye. I am not showing my vagina, but I am revealing what we do not see in the painting, the eye of the vagina, the black hole, this concealed eye, this chasm, which, beyond the flesh, refers to infinity, to the origin of the origin.”

Obviously, the Museum does not share this ‘vaginal interpretation’. She was accused of exhibitionism and of violating the Museum’s rules. Many high profile critics rushed to condemn her act as pure propaganda, aimed at securing an ephemeral media attention, while others pushed for a feminist interpretation, overkill!

I do not know if what she did was art, I am not arrogant enough to claim I have the magical equation or definition for what art is. I also couldn’t care less about the limits. I do know, however, that if she really means what she says, we would be witnessing a case of ‘vagina activism’ in which genitals are –finally- at the service of art (rather than being a clichéd expression of a zillionth feminist outcry).

The Origin of the World by Gustave CourbetDeborah de Robertis in action

2013: Tribute to some incredible Art Museums

Whenever a year approaches its end, I look back at what that year added to me in terms of aesthetic exposure, and I check that year’s balance in terms of artistic masterpieces experienced for the first time.

In that sense, 2013 has been a year of one aesthetic orgasm after another: Following literally years of planning and yearning, I finally visited the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Organgerie, Centre Pompidou, Musée Rodin, the Uffizi Gallery, Galleria dell’Accademia, the Bargello, the Palatine Gallery, Siena’s Civic Museum, Joan Miró Foundation, the MNAC…to the end of the long list! I’m not mentioning the cathedrals, churches, palaces and other attractions here, only the museums.

It would be meaningless to compare or even try to remember everything, but here are some of the things that I don’t think I would ever forget. These are the ‘unforgettables’ of 2013:
– Cour Khorsabad (The Louvre)
– Winged Victory & Venus of Milo (The Louvre)
– The New Department of Islamic Art (The Louvre)
– The Renaissance Masters Collection (The Louvre)
– Jacque-Louis David’s Collection (The Louvre)
– Impressionism Collection (Orsay)
– Monet’s huge water-lilies (l’Orangerie)
– The Gates of Hell (Musée Rodin)
– The Maestà of Duccio, Cimabue & Giotto (Uffizi)
– Botticelli’s Room (Uffizi)
– Michelangelo’s David (Academia)
– Donatello’s David (Bargello)
– The Catalan Romanesque Collection (MNAC)
– Works by Ramon Casas & Fortuny (MNAC)

I am attaching photos that I took for all these museums, an artistic ‘farewell’ 2013.