Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now
12 Oct , 07 - 27 Jan, 08
As with most Barbican shows there's a sense that this has too much to look at. 'Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now' is an exhibition in the vein typisch of any grandious show. Cut into several sub-sections the viewer is guided through a detailed historical narrative reflecting on the role of sex within art.
The sub-sections are
Sex and Cold Marble
Under Lock and Key
Divine Love and Carnal Pleasures
Between the Covers
The Voice of Sex
Artistic and Muse
Playing with Edge.
This is a curatorial decision that is very previlant in the world of Barbican exhibition making. The show hinges on all that was forbidden, lusted and representational of a divine intrigue in sexual desire, or at least this is what the show is claiming. The exhibition flyer claims that the show will 'broaden your mind and stimulate your senses.' I beg to differ. 'Seduced' as I will be referring to it manages to clarify that even a 21st century audience can still find even the most age old of sexual moments still as weird and wonderful as they were deemed back in the day of their creation. Here the show manages to not be some kind of inter layering of sensual experiences and stimulating moments but moreover a point and gawk moment of witnessing the finer points of what has turned us on in the past. This isn't a bad thing by a long shot. Seduced manages to compensate for lack of curatorial 'umph' by digging out a real treasure trove of remarkable fascinations and obscurities that help enlighten even the most radical sexually active punter.
True, in the V & A you wouldn't get a Andy Warhol playing above your head as you pick apart the sexual references in 'Secretum' (a early Renaissance work previously on exhibit at the British Museum with restricted access as to not 'offend the Victorian morality.') Saying this the very fact that 'Secretum' was once on exhibit at the British Museum begs the relevance of such works in this show. A re-hang is a re-hang at the end of the day and just because there is an influx of work within one showcase does not qualify the experience as particularly interesting. Here I have to mention the work of Robert Mapplethorpe who commands his own room on the upper level of the show. Mapplethorpe, a 1970s photographer finds his wonderful photographic skill in the exploration of male bondage, domination and submission. The black and white shots not only help us step into a world intersected with moments of pain and pleasure, but the very showing of this work at the Barbican is the crux of the controversy that this show may want to create. Banned in America, Mapplethorpes photos are bound in a coffee table box and exposed as separate entities decyphering the fairly new age ideal of male S & M practice. It's refreshing and enlighting to see these photos which greatly juxtapose the gilt paintings and watercolours downstairs.
To let the lower level of the Barbican become such an observatory for antiquited art explorations not only manages to dull down this apparent lively and explosive show but almost numbs the sensory experience that we were first promised. Apart from Mapplethorpes imposing photographs and K R Buxleys pastiche on Warhols 'Blow Job' it's hard to truely find anything that hints at the contemporary or any kind of contemporary investigation of sex in the art. This is only made worse by leaving us with a beautifully comforting slide film by Nan Golding. The final piece on the upper level of the show, it is the last piece we come across. Played against the backdrop of a Bjork soundtrack we witness Goldings standardised photo-reality imprint as she explores the relationship between 5 couples. Images of tender moments of reflection between the lovers are interspersed with love making and playful shots of just existing within each others moment, it manages to single handily make us breath a sigh of relief as we can all nod and say that through all this it's all just a matter of finding the 'right' partner. A message that frays the enter construct of an exploration that begs us to confuse the very privledge of sex and how we go about obtaining it.
Left navigating my way out of the Barbican I don't necessarily feel enlightened or impressed upon, moreover I feel like I've had a casual morning at the Natural History Museum or the Portrait Gallery. It's an odd juxtaposition to be in, almost like I'm completely unsatisfied, my thirst not quenched and my desire not full-filled. A feeling I accredit to the obvious facilitation of this show by a company who boast their 'purpose is to cross the boundaries of art and science, subtly, imaginatively, and distinctively.' Marina Wallace one of the main guest curators for the show who runs and works for Artakt not only completely compels all compelling narrative away from this show but manages to make the very construction of it as enterprisingly unenterprising. 'Seduced' I am not, the latest offering from the Barbican would be great as a perminant exhibition but as a explosion onto the art world of London...well you have to dig a little deeper.