Very occasionally and normally with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek irony and predatorial bad-taste, is an older woman considered as an object of sexual-desire. In the Coen brothers’ latest, ‘A Serious Man’, the ‘sexy-neighbour’ is a scary super-woman with too much make-up and too little decorum. The older woman and sex is a topic of taboo and avoidance. As Charlie Brooker recently pointed out, Susan Boyle is an average looking woman but in comparison to today’s airbrushed army, she is more than the wrong side of beautiful.
When Louise Bourgeois grins widely wearing a coat of monkey fur with a two foot-long latex phallus wielded under her right arm she is disarming and confrontational. Old women aren’t meant to make sexual jokes, are they? This is 1982 and the artist is in her early seventies. The photograph, taken by Robert Mapplethorpe the same year as her retrospective at MoMA, is subsequently cropped so all we see is the image of her wrinkled, smiling face. The erotic humour is therefore stripped from the image leaving the question; can erotic art and old age go hand-in-hand?
‘The glint in the eye refers to the thing I’m carrying. But they cut it. They cut it because the museum was so prudish’.
Louise Bourgeois, Janus Fleuri, 1968, © Cheim & Reid, New York
Bourgeois suggests that the image is a joke on MoMA itself; having famously excluded females largely in it’s history of twentieth-century art, Bourgeois proudly grappling a crumbling, latex phallus pokes fun at this.
Hauser and Wirths’ latest all-female line-up of Bourgeois, Lynda Benglis and Alina Szapocznikows’ brought together three artists who address the taboo of eroticism and late-style or even death. Is this show an indication that the contemporary art world has come a long way since the Guerrilla Girls’ protests of the eighties?
Lynda Benglis’ most enduring image is of her posturing, greased, powerful and amazon-like with a giant dildo held between her legs. She is sexy yet terrifying with a perfectly formed body and ‘dyke-cut’. Originally created for Artforum in 1974, this work has had the most enduring impact and potentially effects the way we view everything she has created since. In the show her works are sensual, erotic and mirror the female/male emphasis of Bourgeois’ works. Similarly, Szapocznikow casts the female body and presents us with breasts, phalli-type objects and the idea of the female-body traumatised by the holocaust, dying early as a results of breast-cancer. Although Szapocznikow does not specifically address the idea of sexuality, she makes the viewer confront a body which is not aesthetically beautiful, desirable or even fully-finished.
These artists demonstrate a way in which the ageing female artist depicts eroticism or the female body without really depicting it. By making parts of the body, cast, crumbling or partially-shown, they create ‘acceptable’ versions of their own sexuality, while also subtly disrupting the idea of the complete, ‘perfect’ form in modernist sculpture. It is only when we are confronted with the photo, the ‘reality’ of late-eroticism in the form of Louise Bourgeois and her crumbling phallus that this question is truly addressed. You can be old and erotic, you can even be old, ugly and erotic so long as you don’t take a photo of it.
Headless Torso 1968, © Alina Szapocznikow
Joel and Ethan Coen ‘s ‘A Serious Man’ was released on 20 Nov 2009 and is showing at: The Soho Curzon, Vue Islington, Notting Hill Coronet, Odeon Covent Garden, Odeon Camden Town, Cineworld Chelsea and Holloway Odeon.
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