The Art of Pornography

A Different View: Artists address pornography 
Gus Fisher Gallery,
August 23 - October 12

Gustave Courbet’s painting L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) on display at the prestigious Musee d’Orsay in Paris depicts a vagina in almost anatomical detail. It is the second most popular painting in the museum in terms of postcard sales, just behind Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette.

The work, which is open to view by anyone, has been censored by the French authorities when it has been presented in other contexts such as the cover of a book. It raises issues about what constitutes pornography, erotica and voyeurism and what forms of sexual depiction are accepted or permitted in society.

The topic has been endlessly debated and a new exhibition at the Gus Fisher Gallery adds another dimension to this debate.

Artists have always sought to conjure up and describe human emotions and for years were able to show religious ecstasy and the idyllic emotions attached to romantic love but depicting moments of sexual ecstasy have always been fraught with problems.

Various artists throughout history have had their pornographic or erotic moments but taboos around matters sexual have never been resolved.

The intention behind such works is to celebrate the varieties of sexual bliss and the universal desire for sexual union with the erotic artist seeking to portray a vision of human ecstasy. The problem is at what point does this look like pornography.

While the exhibition is intended to address issues of sexism and racism in the production, representation and consumption of mainstream pornography, no main stream pornography is included with the exhibition which is essentially a set of reflections on the nature of pornography.

The show ranges from works which have elements of pornography to poetic and academic reflections on pornography and sexuality.

There are Rohan Wheallans large colour photographs of female models where he has painted decorative elements onto the skin of the model'S vagina, using the body as the canvas in a variant of the way  that the French artist Yves Klein used the body as a paint brush,

Kushana Bush’s delicate gouaches of figures engaged in sexual activity derive from the Kama Sutra which links sexual education, sexual pleasure and spiritual connections.

There are spiritual and religious connections with the work of Liz Maw with her “Political Painting”. In a variation of the Virgin in a Condom she replaces a Buddha from the caves of Bamiyan with an erect and ejaculating penis.   The work highlights the fact that the exhibition could be picketed by Islamists for its blasphemous nature rather then its pornography.

The two paintings by Richard McWhannell featuring gender reversal are both based on painting by Balthus, whose work had strong Freudian elements.

Hye Rim Lee’s huge photographic mural Pink, Lucid Dream features a cyber-feminist creation, which enables the artist to explore constructions of femininity.  Existing in a strawberry garden zone between dream and reality, Lee’s characters act out how the real female body might be affected by technological manipulation. 

In an interesting development in the area of pay for porn channels, one of the Norway’s major hotel chains has dropped their porn channels in favour of art videos.