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Painting as Sex Object - Revisited

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Paintings about masturbation as subject matter are not that rare. Duchamp's Chocolate Grinder and Jasper Johns' The Dutch Wives are two well known examples. But these onanistic artworks from Scott, what do they say about the paintings serving as props for the ‘come hither' models? Are there parallels? Is he claiming that there is a carnal dimension to the activity of admiring art - aside from puns about ‘knowing' or ‘possessing' people or things?



Ian Scott
Late Models


21 March - 14 April 2012

You see on the right a selection of Ian Scott’s well known images of provocatively posed, scantily clad women, designed to arouse their audience but which probably, with many, will repulse - either through themselves as subject matter, or through the artist’s poor paint handling. These eight paintings - now showing in Kichener St - come from a much bigger exhibition presented in CoCA in Christchurch in February 2007, and from the series about which Ed Hanfling has written a book.

Unlike the varied subgroups of that show, only one of these redisplayed Gow Langsford works includes a ventilation grille, a self conscious joke about sexual heat and Scott’s early (quite brilliant) Lattice series, and only one of the women is not showing undergarments - we see cleavage instead through her unbuttoned blouse.

Juxtaposed against an array of museum displayed Lichtensteins, Nolands, Newmans and a Malevich, these appropriated images from masturbation magazines, through their ciphers of open mouths, proffered cleavage and pulled down knickers, are saying ‘climb on board, guys and gals’ we are here for you to ejaculate or have orgasms over - not into for we are only paint on canvas, not flesh and blood. Sorry, we are only two-dimensional artworks - representations through which the artist aspires to arouse.

Paintings about masturbation as subject matter are not that rare. Marcel Duchamp’s Chocolate Grinder (1914) and Jasper Johns’ The Dutch Wives (1975) are two well known examples, the latter being boards with holes cut in them which lonely sailors use. But these onanistic artworks from Scott, what do they say about the paintings serving as props for the ‘come hither’ models? Are there parallels? Is he claiming that there is a carnal dimension to the activity of admiring modernist art, aside from puns about ‘knowing’ or ‘possessing’ people or things?

Certainly there are jokes about body parts set up by the design of the abstract paintings. Nipples are repeated in Nos 69 and 72 with reference to ‘target’ Nolands, triangular pubes alluded to in No. 89 with its downward pointing triangular Noland motif, vertical buttock clefts run parallel to the zips in a couple of Newman works, and there are other cleverer sorts of nuance as well. For example the language taken from speech and thought bubbles in Romance comics in the two Lichtenstein quoting works has a feminist ‘invisibility’ message in one case (‘I can see the whole room and there’s nobody in it’) and romantic devotion (‘Maybe he became ill and couldn’t leave the studio’) in the other. They undermine and counteract the salaciousness.

Ad Reinhardt once drew a cartoon where an abstract painting on a wall, on being asked ‘What does this represent?’ replied to its interrogator, ‘What do you represent?’ So what do Ian Scott’s versions of The Dutch Wives ask of their potentially Chocolate Grinding audience?

Gow Langsford’s promotional blurb claims that Scott is a serious intellectual making these works (not indulging in an artist’s wet dream) so how do images of seemingly sexually available young women posing with modernist masterworks provide an interesting locus for discussion? There is not much to ponder over apart from a rather corny juxtaposition of high and low cultures, a possible critique of the corrupting power of money, and examples of a so-called patriarchal art production versus disposable female sex objects. Duchamp is famous for provocatively remarking that he wanted to grasp things with his mind the way the penis was grasped by the vagina, so is there some layered Duchampian trope referencing the desired female organ and ‘mental’ penetration? Something subtle as a form of complex but consistently articulated thought? There is little to indicate it.

Although these images are intended to reference Scott’s late sixties / early seventies ‘beach girls’ those beautifully crafted early works were not thematically sexual and have little in common with this show. Instead of exuding a to be lusted over, ‘hottie’ ambience they conveyed a sense of innocence, good humour and vivacious energy, their lively body positions matching the angular landscapes and vegetation behind them. It’s difficult to believe it is the same artist.

John Hurrell

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This Discussion has 1 comment.


Andrew Paul Wood, 12:26 a.m. 26 March, 2012

Artistic erotica is ancient. It is found in Pompeii and on the walls of Hindu and Buddhist temples. Artistic viewing is about consumption and possession. In that regard, Scott's most illustrious predecessor was Manet, who made the visual/sexual transaction explicit in Un bar aux Folies Bergère and Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, and then he turned it on it's head with the Olympia (because she haughtily looks back - although Manet lifted this more or less wholesale from Titian's Venus d'Urbino).

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