You have to hand it to the d’Orsay Museum in Paris. They know how to titillate the senses and draw the crowds with promotional material that whets the appetite and borders skittishly on the pornographic. Check out this commissioned video to promote their upcoming show inspired by the Marquis de Sade (whose erotic writings gave birth to the term sadism). Watch the 60-second video – it’s glorious!
The d’Orsay Museum is not averse to controversial art. Several years ago, I spent six weeks at the d’Orsay Museum in Paris as the first authorized copyist of one of the most iconic erotic paintings in the history of art – Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde (1866) . During my stint as a copyist I also filmed the highlights of one of my days copying what is essentially a close-up, peep-show view of a woman’s vagina.
I’m proud to announce that this documentary will be screened later this month at the Institut Courbet in Ornans, France to coincide with their annual copyist week in honor of Gustave Courbet. This is a huge validation of my work, and I feel quite excited about this exposure (no pun intended!). However, I was positively speechless when I found out that a trailer for my documentary had amassed close to 1,500,000 views (that’s right – one and a half million views) on the The Great Nude website that focuses exclusively on the nude in figurative art.
After feeling giddy about these statistics for a full ten minutes, I came down to earth when I realized that nothing actually resulted from all those views. Even if we dismiss one million of the views as voyeuristic lechers, out of the remaining five hundred thousand viewers you might think there would be one or two art critics, or gallerists or artists who might have contacted me with some exciting creative proposal. Nada. Not a one. Which begs the question – is there really a point to social media? So what if a gaggle of people have viewed the video? Does exposure really lead to anything concrete or positive? Maybe I’m missing the point. Love to hear from you.
For more about my work with L’Origine du monde click here.
I almost fell off my seat today. There I was checking my email and doing a quick peruse of all the various art news feeds and blogs I subscribe to, the most prestigious and informative being Blouin ARTINFO Daily Arts Digest. They write about the very latest trends and happenings in visual arts, architecture, culture, innovation and design.
Today’s headlines featured the most stunning revelation about a particular 19th century work of art very close to my heart – Gustave Courbet’s iconic 1866 painting l’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World). This notorious close-up of female genetalia is one of the most famous works in history and as the authorized copyist of this work (that’s my copy above, self-censored for this article!!) at the d’Orsay Museum in Paris, I have a particularly close affection for this famous work.
Blouin Artinfo broke the news already hitting the French and British newspapers that in fact, there may have been a head associated with the truncated torso and it appears to have been partially authenticated as a Courbet work. This is sending ripples, or rather tsunamis, across the art world. So where do I come into all this? As I hungrily scrolled down to the bottom of the article, who should I run across but a video of me painting none other than Courbet’s l’Origine du monde!! Check it out with your own eyes, in Video of day slot 🙂
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.
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.
I Am Woman (Excerpt from Dans le Ventre des Femmes)
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.