The declaration that a work of art is “about sex” is often announced to the public as a scandal after which there is nothing else to say about the work or the artist-controversy concludes a conversation when instead it should begin a new one.
Moving beyond debates about pornography and censorship, Jennifer Doyle shows us that sex in art is as diverse as sex in everyday life: exciting, ordinary, emotional, traumatic, embarrassing, funny, even profoundly boring. Sex Objects examines the reception and frequent misunderstanding of highly sexualized images, words, and performances. In chapters on the “boring parts” of Moby-Dick, the scandals that dogged the painter Thomas Eakins, the role of women in Andy Warhol’s Factory films, “bad sex” and Tracey Emin’s crudely evocative line drawings, and L.A. artist Vaginal Davis’s pornographic parodies of Vanessa Beecroft’s performances, Sex Objects challenges simplistic readings of sexualized art and instead investigates what such works can tell us about the nature of desire.
In Sex Objects, Doyle offers a creative and original exploration of how and where art and sex connect, arguing that to proclaim a piece of art “about sex” reveals surprisingly little about the work, the artist, or the spectator. Deftly interweaving anecdotal and personal writing with critical, feminist, and queer theory, she reimagines the relationship between sex and art in order to better understand how the two meet-and why it matters.
Jennifer Doyle is associate professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. She is coeditor, with Jonathan Flatley and José Esteban Muñoz, of Pop Out: Queer Warhol.