Author: Joseph Nechvatal --- Date: 11/4/95--- Copyright: ThingReviews NYC

FŽminin-Masculin, le sexe de l'art
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
October 25th to February 12th

This massive exhibition, containing some 500 works of art by 100 artists, is a bit titillating and certainly instructional in its complex sexual maneuvers, full with the beatitudes, ecstasies, and dazzling reverberations of sexual encounters. It's underlying assumption is replete with a social sexual freedom which no longer exists and it is this general feeling which provides us with its basic pleasure as well as its fissure. And for this I can exceptionally recommend it. But at the same time I must point out its short comings, which are grave as concerns the digital on-line audience for whom I ostensibly am writing.

The exhibition portends to show the coexistence of two genealogies in the art of this century where sex is concerned: one beginning with Picasso which falls within the classic and Hegelian tradition of sexual opposition established as a dialectical, organic opposition of masculine & feminine vigor. The other, stems from Duchamp as he initiates an unsymmetrical discernment that spreads a bounty of potent and effeminate energies to bring about a deterritorialization of physique, identity and appearance. In other words, a ride in Duchamp's Machines CŽlibataires/Bachelor Machines, which are clearly auto-erotic and subversive - as within their mechanics desire is no longer subordinated to lack, but becomes a simulated end in itself.

Given the exhibitions spew of explicit sexual images, one may thank the French once again for their social-sexual candor and maturity as this is a show I imagine impossible to mount (pun intended) in the current repressive cultural/political climate of the U.S.A. as well as many other countries throughout the world. In its inherent Frenchness it also can be contextualized as an out growth of French surrealism and as a continuation of such demonstrative exhibitions as "Eros", an exhibition organized by Marcel Duchamp and AndrŽ Breton in 1959. In fact a good deal of today's contemporary art stars look outright mainstream surrealist in its context.

The show which proclaims to be in opposition to the current reigning ideology of melancholy was curated by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Bernard MarcadŽ and is organized into 5 sections/sexions: The Origin of the World, Identities & Mascarades, Stories of the Eye, Attractions & Repulsions, and Natural Histories. Within this labyrinth one can see some great works of art from this and the last century along with some mediocre but trendy new art which typically lacks sensuality. Some of the great pieces are Gustave Courbet's "L'Origine du monde" 1866, Antonin Artaud's "La Maladresse sexuelle de dieu" 1946, Marcel Duchamp's "La MariŽe" 1912 and a reconstruction of his "La MariŽe mise ˆ nu par ses cŽlibataires, mme" (the large glass), Hans Bellmer's "Phallus" 1963, his "Unica, l'oeil sexe" 1961 and 6 prints illustrating "Histoire de l'oeil" by Georges Bataille 1944. One also sees a plethora of Louise Bourgeois including her great "Twosome" 1991. She kicks off the show with this truly massive mechanical black metal dick which plunges repetitively into a red flashing hole. I also enjoyed some wonderfully large double-headed dildos called "Parenthesis" 1975 from Lynda Benglis, three good Rebecca Horns, Man Rays, Roberto Matta, loads of Annette Messager, a frantically fucking tiny mechanical Nam June Paik, and Mapplethorpe's impressive "Man in a Polyester Suit" 1981 which is hung at eye your face. Creamy Picassos depicting creamy fucks are placed everywhere and the majestic Carolee Schneemann "Vulva's Morphia" 1981-1995 is very well positioned. The discovery for me of the self-dramatizing and gender-bending self photographic works of Claude Cahun from the 1920s came as somewhat of a revelation with their precedent for the Cindy Shermanesque lets dress up and make-believe shtick. Also there are wonderfully disturbing pieces by Jana Sterbak, and Rosemarie Trockel and the poetic and loving presence of Kiki Smith's "Train" 1993 which closes the show with its transformation of menstrual blood into strings of rubies. Artists missing from the show were many of the less than art star name brands which have mined this rich vain for years but have been overlooked by the art market matrix which circulates and sanctifies the unrisky choices the curators made in terms of newer or under known artists. In this sense they really did practice safe sex.

More to the point, where the show comes up short is just where sexual representation has really gone today, where it is really happening these days, on-line. The general public has become increasingly aware of the value of electronic space as a space for personal sex transformation, communication, play, learning, and information. Older cultural artistic notions of sex representation, as those exhibited here, do not adapt to the needs of the new post-biological, electronic, and on-line global sensibility.

Electronic post-biological sex increasingly embodies qualities of open-endedness and participatory sensory immersion of the sexing subject and of intensive interactivity and connectivity from which new material emerges and from which the really new art evolves. The subconscious and sublimated sex impulse now is on the global net, digitally formed and interfaced to increasingly smart and sexy materials and intelligent applications. We await true immersive virtual reality technology to take us where we want to go, which is all the way to meet all the "people" we can imagine we want to fuck. The new art exhibiting institutions we need must constitute networks of fluid, flowing open systems, supporting the qualities of open-endedness and emergence, and encouraging connectivity at all levels. This should have been the model for this exhibition, not the safe and staid one they toiled under.

It is through cybersex that we can best apprehend the processes of sexual emergence in the image-flow, the invisible forces and fields of our many desires. We cyberceive transformative relationships and connectivity as immaterial process, just as palpably and immediately as we commonly perceive material bodies in actual locations. The cyber-sex-net is also the agent of realization and construction, embracing a multiplicity of electronic pathways to digital sexual systems. And in so far as men and women inhabit parallel worlds, and open up divergent trajectories, cybersex may enable us to become simultaneously conscious of them all, or at least to zap at will across multiple sex universes, which was not true in the museum, though it is a worthy place to meet potential actual sex partners.

And so, just as the organization of the show FŽminin-Masculin demonstrates, before we thought, saw and fucked people in a linear manner, one after another (generally speaking), one women hidden behind another, one man behind the next and along the way dividing the world up into categories and classes of people: people with impermeable boundaries, bodies with penetrable interiors.

In the new reality, it's a matter of high speed sexual feedback, access to massive sex databases, interaction with a multiplicity of mind-genital complexes - seeing with a thousand eyes, reaching into the enormity of our mental sex space, even to the edge of the globe. Cybersex is the antithesis of the museum's constricted tunnel love and of the curator's restricted linear thought. It is an all-at-once perception of a multiplicity of sexual positions, an extension in all dimensions to all people that allows us to interact fully with the values of our age of appearance.

Contemporary cybersex and shopping are becoming more or less the same thing. Each fuckable person is a prettified and packaged product, each component chosen from a catalogue. And we shall increasingly screw in two worlds, the real and the virtual, yet these worlds still interconnect at many points.

Cybersex heightens transpersonal experience and is the defining behavior of a transpersonal erotic art. Cybersex involves transpersonal technology, the technology of communication, sharing, collaborating--the technology that enables us to transform our selves, transfer our fantasies, and transcend the limitations of our bodies. Pity the curators were not hip to this. Yet still they assembled an erotic art show worth anyone's while and quintessentially Parisian.

-Joseph Nechvatal

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