Teresa dreaming, The queen’s vagina… Five works of art that caused a scandal for sexism

from the era I alsomany paintings, sculptures and other artistic representations have passed, years after their creation, on the grill of public opinion.

“This gallery presents women’s bodies, either as a ‘decorative passive form’ or as a ‘femme fatale’. Let’s challenge this Victorian fantasy!”, could be read in January 2018 at the entrance of the Manchester Art Gallery in London. This inscription replaced the tablet. Hylas and the nymphs, Pre-Raphaelite work by the British painter John William Waterhouse. Sometimes criticized by some, sometimes well received by others, this initiative aimed to ask visitors about the burning issue of the representation of women in art, putting post-its at their disposal so that they could write down their feelings.

In fact, in a society crossed by questions of gender, class and sexuality, by the #Metoo movement and by culture woke up, the museum intended, in fact, to be part of a larger phenomenon: that of the reinterpretation of our masterpieces in contemporary times and in the light of our ideologies. This, like the feminist podcast and the Instagram account. Venus was waxing her pussy, launched by a former art historian, questioning male artists’ view of women. To talk about the Pre-Raphaelite movement, he explained in particular in one of his publications, based on the work mine of John William Waterhouse himself this: “They are mainly inspired by ancient and medieval themes […] all with a good dose of misogyny in common”.

The Folies Bergeres bar by Eduard Manet

The Folies Bergeres bar by Edouard Manet, 1881-1882. fake images

Thus, after many controversies, the Manchester Art Gallery was not the only one to protect itself from possible attacks on its acquisitions, taking advantage of the debate itself, at the risk of provoking a controversy in the opposite direction. On April 13, the Courtauld Gallery in London reviewed the labeling of a painting by the French Impressionist painter Édouard Manet, The Folies Bergeres bar. Made in 1882, this portrait, considered sexist by the institution, represents a waitress, harassed in a Parisian café-concert, staring both at the viewer and at a man, whose reflection is projected in a large mirror behind her.

On the new poster of the painting it is specified that “the enigmatic expression of this woman is disturbing, especially because she seems to be talking to a male client”. And to add that she is, in truth, only one element among the tempting variety that is offered in the foreground: wine, champagne, mint liqueur and British Bass beer. A description that was intended to warn visitors of the “male gaze” of the work, a feminist concept that seemed to denounce that the male gaze turns women into objects of desire, even if it means abusing them.

teresa dreaming by Balthus

teresa dreaming by Balthus in the Museum Ludwig, Germany. fake images

If Édouard Manet has his share of controversies, the painter Balthus can also claim to have drawn the ire of many feminist movements. Worse still, the artist has been accused of voyeurism and perversion, and even pedophile thoughts. Accusations regarding his works, placing the visitor’s gaze under the skirts of very young girls.

This is the case of his famous painting. teresa dreaming, painted in 1938. This shows a child in red petticoats sunbathing in a lascivious posture. In November 2017, a petition went around the world to remove the work from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET): “I simply ask the MET to be more attentive to the paintings that hang on its walls and to understand what these paintings mean “. to insinuate”, explained Mia Merrill, to the initiative of this uprising. Used during the Harvey Weinstein case, the American producer convicted of raping actresses, the activist will have received nearly 9,000 signatures, without, however, having the canvas removed.

increasingly ugly by Songta

It is a work that scandalized public opinion several years after its creation. Made in 2012, Uglier and uglier (Uglier and uglier in English) by Chinese Song Ta, is a nearly seven-hour video, scrolling through nearly 5,000 images of female students captured without their knowledge on a college campus. The latter are classified and numbered according to their physique. First screened in 2013 without much reaction, it was made available to visitors in June 2021 at the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT) in Shanghai, this time causing a wind of outrage. In an interview for Vice in 2013, the artist said about this work: “In the end, it was scary… They were normal people, they didn’t lack an arm or an ear or an eye, but they were so ugly that they made people uncomfortable.»

Many shocked visitors denounced the sexist and even insulting nature of this project, demanding its immediate removal from the establishment. “After receiving reviews, we have re-evaluated the content of this artwork as well as the artist’s explanation. We found that it was disrespectful to women, and the way it was shot had image rights issues.“, the OCAT had explained.

the queen’s vagina by Anish Kapoor

Indian artist Anish Kapoor is also used to scandals. In 2015 he surprised with his work dirty corneralso nicknamed the queen’s vagina, installed in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. But the one that we remember for its particularly disturbing character is due to a series of paintings presented in June 2019 at the Lisson Gallery in London. The painter and visual artist had set out to depict a woman’s menstrual cycle, in a rather evocative… even disgusting way. Canvases painted with streaks of blood, walls strewn with splashes, dripping holes… In the caption of his series a question was posed: is a man legitimate to paint women’s problems, pain, violence and poverty? impurity?

Palm Springs Museum of Art, Marilyn Monroe

The statue of marilyn monroe Abaca

Eternal object of desire, Marilyn Monroe also had the right to a statue in her likeness. To pay tribute to him, a sculpture almost eight meters high, inspired by a cult scene from the film Seven years of reflection, was installed last June near the Palm Springs Museum of Art in the United States. Without much surprise, the actress is projected there as a femme fatale: her languid pose, high heels and a light white dress flying exposing her panties. Considered sexist and sexualizing for the actress and for women, the work was the object of the wrath of local associations, who demanded its withdrawal. After numerous demonstrations in the summer of 2021, so many petitions and even a complaint against Riverside County in the United States, no feminist association has managed to remove the statue of the actress, to the chagrin of the director of Palm Springs Art Museum, that he has a full view of his ass every morning.

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