Art mirrors our fluid world

If nothing else, the COVID virus has proven just how porous our borders and nation states are. Similarly, the once irrefutable parameters that defined social strata and gender identity have never been more fluid. Everything seems to be overlapping, blending, blurring. In the art world too, few artists feel the need to stay in one lane. Art institutions have long been encouraging students to experiment with different media and to express their creativity in multiple ways. As a result, today’s art inhabits hybrid combinations such as photography and painting, collage and printmaking, clay sculpture and video projection. In my own practice, I find myself increasingly drawn to work that crosses disciplines and does away with purist rules.

Here’s a recent example.

In an article about Paris’ bird market (Marche aux Oiseaux) I was struck by the vintage photograph that accompanied the article.

I had visited the market in the past and always felt a terrible sadness at the injustice of caging these beautiful creatures. Now the market is to be shuttered due to pressure from animal rights groups. I felt impelled to express my emotions about the market and decided upon a mixed media journal format including pen drawings, collage, printmaking and stenciling.

Here’s the result:

I recently came across Greek artist, Kostas Lambridis, whose three-dimensional constructions personify the cross pollination of materials and the trend of using disparate materials to achieve extraordinary results:

Ceramic sculptor, Joanna Allen, has created powerful work using projected video onto her figurative ceramic sculptures:

I think you can begin to see what I mean by cross pollination in the arts. I’ll leave you with one last example – photographer and painter Tawny Chatmon who embellishes her superb digitally enhanced photographs with intricate gold leaf patterning to create magnificent images.

PS. A thought just occurred to me – perhaps the literary world needs to catch up with this trend as I faced a lot of push-back from traditional publishers because my novel L’Origine: The secret life of the world’s most erotic masterpiece is part personal essay/memoir and part historical fiction. Based on over a hundred amazing reviews, that hasn’t seemed to matter to my readers!!


An artist paints with words

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First stroke Acrylic on canvas

OK. You all get it by now: I love art. I love the drag of my loaded brush against the canvas and the sensuous feel of wet clay spinning beneath my hands. I also love how art can come to life through words. Reading about the lives of famous artists and the stories behind their seminal works adds important context that a purely visual encounter cannot. My novel L’Origine: The secret life of the world’s most erotic masterpiece was inspired by the remarkable odyssey of an iconic 19th century painting that continues to ruffle feathers to this day. Lots of exciting podcast interviews, articles and live readings are coming up in place of a traditional book tour.

Click on the image below for a delicious teasing clip of Lynne Hanley from Beyond the Palette in London announcing the upcoming interview about my book. Her motto is Art, Drama and Passion. She delivers on all three! For the full interview click here.


Before you rush off I’d like to recommend two recent novels by women authors who shed light on the hardships that female artists faced in different centuries and cultures.

Sofonisba. Portraits of the Soul by [Chiara Montani, Verna Kaye]

Sofonisba is a historical novel with the taste and the colors of the Renaissance. You’ll fall in love with this unforgettable heroine.

The Painter from Shanghai: A Novel by [Jennifer Cody Epstein]

The Painter from Shanghai is a re-imagining of the life of Pan Yuliang and her transformation from prostitute to post-Impressionist.


See Spot run: Where it all began…

Painting by Lilianne Milgrom. Acrylic on canvas

Who can remember the thrill of learning to read? I distinctly remember the very first time my heart leapt as I strung letters together to sound out a word. That memory is so vivid that I created an installation called Memory in Yellow that was exhibited at Artomatic in Washington DC several years ago.

I had found a reprint of the Dick and Jane book that I learned to read from and that inspired me to recreate my memory as a site specific installation.

Nothing much has changed since then in so far as my love of reading – if I don’t have at least four books in the pipeline I start feeling anxious! Over the years I have channeled my creativity in both the visual and literary arts.

Which brings me to my HUGE, EXCITING, LONG-AWAITED NEWS!!!!!!!!!

Yep – that’s my name there…I can’t quite believe it myself. It only took me ten years but who’s counting?? I just posted this cover reveal on Instagram and wanted to share the news with my loyal blog readers as well. Lots more in the weeks to come about L’Origine but if you can’t wait and are inclined to *PRE-ORDER* a copy of this historical novel that traces the riveting odyssey of the world’s most erotic masterpiece, be my guest! I guarantee an enlightening, fun ride 😉

HUFFPOST: 15 minutes of fame


Thrilled to share my personal essay just published in the Huffington Post, entitled

‘How An Encounter With The World’s Most Famous Vagina Painting

Changed My Life’ 


Typical crowd


Showing some skin and is there a point to social media?

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.

Speaking with a visitor a the d'Orsay Museum during my stint as a copyist
Speaking with a visitor a the d’Orsay Museum during my stint as a copyist

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.

Making the headlines…sort of!

Making the headlines...sort of!

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 🙂

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.