Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Va-Jay-Jay Monologues (for F & AK)

Frida Kahlo in drag.

I finally made it to Courbet at the Met last night. 
I was fascinated by the parallels between the marketing of this show and the point of view about Frida Kahlo at the Philadelphia museum: biography, spectacle and scandal. 
The first room was all about biography and self-portraiture.
The artist is pathologized as a mad man and his life is defined in terms of "scandal." Of course the titles of some of the pictures themselves (including the branding image, above) promote this view of the romantic artist bucking tradition and shocking the Establishment, a pose emulated by artists since, notably by Dali. This is seen as a heroic, modernist, original gesture when enacted by a male artist. However, in the case of Kahlo, it leads many critics to view her as neurotic, narcissistic and pathological, a trivial and popularized superstar marginal to the grand narrative of modernism. 

A fantastic sight-line becomes visible that leads the eye to this painting -above- of two women in bed "Sleep." After years of looking at it in slides or books, the details finally came into focus. Of course the phallic surrogates on the night table - the two glass jars - and the lovely vagina stand-in - the glass, inscribe heterosexual sex into the frame. But I had never noticed the labial folds of the rumpled sheets, particularly the fabulously informe reddish-pink section that is revealed immediately below the dark-haired woman's hand. 

Surely others have made the comparison between Kahlo's two nudes and Courbet's iconic "lesbian" picture. Conversant with Freud, Kahlo cleverly parodied his view of homosexuality as pathological narcissism, punning on the view of women as self-involved by rendering what some view as a double self-portrait. 

And others have commented on the racial politics in play - these are also of course part of the tradition of images of lesbians, racialized as one dark, one light - brunette and blonde, butch and femme, sinister and pliant....and all those cliches. Which come down to us today in A Shot of Love With Tila Tequila, a reality TV show in which a "bisexual" bi-racial predatory femme tries to find "true love" among a group of men and women. (Even I cannot bring myself to watch this show.)

A fabulous room dominated by the sleepers is chock-a-block with precursors to pin-up girls, and centerfolds. Here, Courbet's loving attention to pert nipples and dimpled buttocks does not always apply to the women's faces -- these are not important, anyway. 

A large wall splits the room in two, behind is the picture that pops up if you type in Courbet into Google images, the most searched, the most iconic, the most unseen. Prudishly, the curators deem the vagina to end all vaginas as "indecent" while a festival of phalluses populates the Greek and Roman galleries, among other locations. Here, the veiling indicated by the sheets and the shadows in the slits between the sleepers' scissored legs goes up to the torso to give us the money shot. Almost like a murder victim shrouded and splayed. The fact that this was owned by Lacan is so over-determined that it is hilarious. We had never seen the fabulous Masson picture painted to conceal the "lack." That alone was worth visiting the show. 

I was told that one of the review of the exhibition WACK! was headlined "The Vagina Monologues" but I think the Courbet reviewers might have also used the same title.

1 comment:

AK said...

Oh gawd-I love you and I am honored by the dedication! I love the parelles of the show and I was happy to see my own body represented in the Masson picture--it's just a fabulous perspective!