MAY – EROS – SYDNEY

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
Anais Nin

…Or as we secretly want to be…treated, viewed, touched, adored, violated, loved, fucked, kissed, held, worshipped, degraded, caressed, seduced, hurt, restrained, entered, torn apart, made whole again.

Secluded in the bottom drawer or high up in the closet under the winter trilby there may have been a cache of “visual material” in many apparently bashful households. Those blessed with guardians whose clandestine stack of erotica was easily discoverable, felt highly exotic and fortunate, particularly when compared to the neck to ankle modesty that many of us endured.

It was the study of Art History that set me free, just prior to the discovery of Henry Millar and Anais Nin, though Xavier Hollander and Pauline Réage’s The Story of O helped in the earlier, more discombobulating years. Michelangelo’s Dying Slave and Courbet’s Origin of the World offered a candid introduction to the sweep and sensuality, folds and lustre, of both the male and female body. But I think perhaps it was my brush with Nabokov and the paintings of Balthus that first enfolded eroticism with a psychological and aesthetic complexity that was, and still is, provoking and disquieting in equal measure.

This small exhibition doesn’t pretend to be more than it is – a curious collection of evidence that we are and always have been surrounded by beautiful, dark, joyous, covert and occasionally unmasked eroticism. That this everyday eroticism gives force and poignancy to our existence, bliss to our temporary animation, and surprisingly regular highlights to the sometimes dry narratives of AH101.
 
What is clear from this slice of Eros is the range and distinctiveness of how we approach the erotic. From Gideon Rubin’s (IL) undemonstrative and highly sensitive paintings that are tuned to a more “domestic” eroticism; to Hayv Kahraman’s (USA) loaded compositions that conflate cultural and art historical references with a deeply personal self-examination; to Aiko Robinson’s (NZ) contemporary resuscitation of Japanese “shunga” pornography. For all of these artists there is lengthy precedent for the conceptual basis for their work but they bring idiosyncrasy and freshness to the aesthetics of Eros.
Hoda Afshar’s (AUS) suite of photographs Behold offer an intimate view into a concealed world where tenderness rubs up against illegality, where sexuality is necessarily covert, not because some audiences might feel the need to claim protection but the protagonists depend on it.
 
Tracey Snelling’s (USA) humorous but confronting dioramas are exposés of strip-tease at the strip-mall. The collision of uptight Christian morality going head-to-head with those giving head declares the extent of the cultural discord. Oddly both venues welcome you with open arms and promise to deliver ecstasy.
 
Alongside these works are extraordinary paintings by Tomislav Nikolic (AUS), Eric Fischl (USA), Jane Bustin (UK) and Frank Kenis (BEL) each of whom attend to notions of the sensual and the erotic – from Bustin’s and Nikolic’s distilled poetic symbolism to Fischl’s and Kenis’s forceful painterly explicitness.

It is this tension between public and private, between extroverted and cloistered that goes to the heart of the Eros dilemma. The confusion about morality, sexual orthodoxy and pleasure feels so extreme at this moment, the moral and political compass spinning so wildly out of kilter, yet surely it is the repugnance of so called “moral judgement” that is more terrifying than the evidence of some consensual fucking. 
The museological objects in this exhibition make it clear that before the avalanche of jpegs and gifs traded on the internet and the growth of the porn film industry, there was room for a kind of “everyday eroticism”, be it in the form of a finely painted vase, a precocious pot handle or an exquisitely carved marble fountain. Whether such sexual candour displayed on your pots and fountains, brought the bedroom into the kitchen or backyard, was evidence of the imminent fall of Rome, is far less interesting than the ubiquity of the erotic life that all cultures recognise, and some chose to dignify.
 
Andrew Jensen, May 2019