Thinking inside the box

The trend to exhibit art in unconventional and unique venues is growing rapidly and has kept pace with the desire by both artists and curators to bring Art out of the conventional box (galleries, museums and institutions) and into the public eye. Art in the Box is a prime example. One of Washington DC’s pioneers in this field – Art Whino –has spearheaded a most creative project to promote art to the large crowds at the Nationals Stadium Fairgrounds.

Ten shipping containers were converted into art spaces by replacing one of the steel walls with glass and running electricity and crude lighting into the boxes. These pop-up ‘galleries’ were placed around the Fairgrounds creating a wall of art spaces which could be seen from the street or entered through the open doors from inside the Fairgrounds. (To see a similar container project in New York click here).

Artist Lilianne Milgrom outside container’s glass wall seen streetside, Washington DC

A Call for Artists was sent out, reaching the ears of microWave project, a talented team of young female curators who in turn asked me to submit installation proposals for Art in the Box. I was delighted when both of my proposals were accepted. See the final installations below and read more about them on the microWave website and watch this short video clip of moi explaining one of my installations.

Basic Needs

(For a deeper understanding of Basic Needs please click here.)

See Spot Run (Memory in Yellow)

(For a deeper understanding of See Spot Run please click here.)

Installing the works was extremely taxing physically – the temperature inside these steel boxes must have reached 115 degrees! I couldn’t have done it without a team of trusty volunteers, and even so it took about three days to set up. My son Anton found himself in quite a compromising situation during the installation of ‘Basic Needs’….!!!

Art in the Box  containers can be viewed through the end of October 2012 at the Fairgrounds at M and Half Streets in Washington DC. Official reception scheduled for September 6, 2012 6-8pm.

Erotic art journey comes full circle

My upcoming participation in the group show Dans le ventre des femmes  (In the Belly of the Woman) in Paris this fall is another satisfying twist in the journey I undertook two years ago with Gustave Courbet’s notorious masterpiece l’Origine du monde which is housed at the d’Orsay Museum in Paris.

Original and copy in progress

While undertaking the authorized copy of this painting, I was approached about writing a chapter for an anthology on the uterus. The resulting anthology includes musings by artists, poets and writers, both male and female and was recently published and launched by BSC Publishing in Paris. (For those of you interested in my chapter entitled I AM WOMAN I have pasted the English translation at the end of this blog entry).

After being hailed in literary circles, the book’s contributing artists will now be featured at the Rivoli 59 Gallery. I will be exhibiting a painting and a video documentary of my experience copying Courbet’s masterpiece. So SAVE THE DATE (Opening reception October 3, 2012) if you are lucky enough to find yourselves in Paris! And while you’re at it, I am also honored to be participating in an Open Studios (Portes Ouvertes) weekend September 28-30 in Ivry-sur-Seine, an outer suburb of Paris which boasts a concentration of over 130 artists in renovated factories and lofts. I will be showing at the MOLIERE commune. Definitely worth checking out, a weekend full of art, music and performance.

Paris, here I come again!

I Am Woman  (Excerpt from Dans le Ventre des Femmes)

Lilianne Milgrom

In my quest for the elusive essence of female sexuality and identity, I chose a path which led me back to the beginning of time. Back to the creation, the very origin of the world. In artistic terms that meant undertaking a profoundly personal dialogue with Gustave Courbet’s notorious masterpiece entitled ‘l’Origine du monde’ (The Origin of the World).

Courbet’s shocking depiction of an exposed vagina entitled The Origin of the World is still as thought-provoking and relevant today as it was when Courbet painted it in 1866. Till its public debut in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay in 1995, l’Origine du monde was held in various private collections. The painting’s enduring ability to provoke strong emotional response and heated academic debate, suggested it would make the ideal starting point for my journey of exploration and discovery. After jumping through various bureaucratic hoops, I obtained permission from the Musée d’Orsay to become the authorized copyist of this work. This decision turned out to be an enlightening experience.

Copying l’Origine du monde can be likened to a meditative experience, with a certain black triangle as one’s focal point, and the word vulva as one’s mantra. To identify the quintessential core of what defines a woman one must delve deeper than the study of her intimate physical attributes. I know this from experience. I spent six weeks scrutinizing every fold, crevice and pubic hair of a woman’s exposed genitals. The hours and days spent face à face with Courbet’s painting gave rise to a torrent of reflection and introspection, but ultimately confirmed what I already knew to be true. A vagina alone does not a woman make.

Courbet’s painting could hardly be more visually revealing. Yet if one takes the painting at face value alone, it does not reveal the full picture. The raw depiction of a disembodied vulva thrusts the most intimate of feminine possessions unabashedly into the public view. There is no question that it reveals the visible, external and erotic aspect of female sexuality in all its glory. But this painting transcends a one-dimensional interpretation. Despite or perhaps due to, the absence of facial reference, Courbet’s model differs from suggestive pornographic images which reduce women to superficial sex objects. The explicitly erotic l’Origine du monde presents Woman as an object of desire while simultaneously portraying her as goddess of Motherhood, Fertility and Creation. And in so doing, the artist has presented us with an unsettling and paradoxically complex image.

Courbet’s artistic mantra was realism. He claimed that “the essence of realism is the negation of the ideal.” Indeed, Courbet’s painting has spared us an idealized or romanticized female figure. He has painted Woman as Nature intended her to be. Moving past the painting’s sexual and erotic first impression, one is reminded that the anatomical function of the painting’s alluring focal point is to serve as gatekeeper to the true feminine core – the uterus. The uterus is not sexy. It is not erotic. It is not the stuff wet dreams are made of. It is a hidden, utilitarian organ, invisible to the naked eye.  In our male-dominated society the vagina may be the focus of our collective tunnel vision; but it is the uterus which directly and uniquely connects every woman to the Origin and to the Creation of Man – past, present and future.  

By the time I completed my intimate observation of l’Origine du monde, I had fully grasped that Courbet succeeded in capturing not only a woman’s physical attributes, but also what lies beyond the visible. The Origin of the World offers us a real woman, comfortable in her sexual prowess while basking in her unique role as custodian of the uterus and all that it signifies. It is this physical and spiritual duality which ultimately defines Woman.