Luminous Works

22.10.2013 - 07.12.2013 


The basic principle, the Tartuffe principle, we can call it (Molière’s Tartuffe, but not only), endures through the ages and across cultures (Femens in every land, the job has still to be done!): “Cover that breast I cannot bear to see!” Sex, as we know, has a bad reputation. When explicit it is terrible, dirty or nasty! So leave it to the pornographer and his vile deeds! When more suggestive, half-hearted (or through pursed lips, so to speak), it fares better with the upholders of good taste, but then of course it butters no parsnips. Not that artists have refrained from representing it, and sometimes in the most brutal fashion (from Courbet to Nauman, via Picasso, Man Ray, Molinier, Louise Bourgeois or Lebel), with or without “delectation” for the beholder, as Duchamp used to say. But clearly, like an artistic equivalent of the top shelf, it is clear that these pieces are “curiosities,” minor works even when major-format. Fémininmasculin, the exhibition conceived for the Pompidou Centre fifteen years ago by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Bernard Marcadé, showed, however, that sex was neither secondary nor scabrous, but intimately bound up (excuse the expression!) with the process of art itself. That in fact it expressed more than it revealed through forms whose representation in itself is pretty much an open and shut case: that it cast light on creation from within, we might say. At the time, I regretted and was above all astonished that Alina Szapocznikow did not feature in what was and remains a milestone in the French approach to “gender.” I was particularly aware of her resin sculptures combining an erect male sex, a breast and mouth, producing a sensation close to what (borrowing from Freud) Mike Kelley called The Uncanny. Elsewhere – excuse me if I quote myself — I wrote that these sculptures “take on a perverse, erotic and venomous beauty — a Fleurs du Mal side – in an aesthetic vein imbued with a very fin-de-siècle hallucinatory quality [...] but revisited by a deceptively fresh Pop culture. For example, the illuminated mouths may tend towards a flourishing decorative beauty in stunningly beautiful barley-sugar colours, but they are no less infused with anxious, caustic humour, a bit like the carnivorous plant in Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, which is fed with bits of human bodies (a hand, a foot). Szapocznikow exploits the ambiguity of intimacy, of desire and disgust, of formlessness and the elusiveness of life. The tart tones, gelatinous transparency or opacity of polystyrene, polyurethane or wax materialise a transorganic fluidity which, like the sleep of reason, brings forth seductive monsters in the form of agglutinated breasts, eternally smiling mouths, plump bellies.”1 At the time I omitted – simply because I didn’t think to do so – to point out that these sculptures “lit up”: literally, and in the expected way (most are entitled Mouth or Buttock Lamps or Sculpture-Lamp) but also, more subtly, because they cast a sharp light on the obscurantism that still doggedly dominates our world. Alina, please show us again that sex we’d rather not see!

Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux

1. Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, “Alina Forever” in Twist Tropiques, Paris: Editions Loevenbruck and Yellow Now/Côté Arts, 2012. 

Alina Szapocznikow, Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, Loevenbruck, Paris