Serious Contemporary Artists Who Flirt With The Erotic

Sex has preoccupied artists since the beginning of time – look no further than prehistoric Venus figurines! But today, despite the all-pervasiveness of sexualised imagery in contemporary culture, most artists merely knowingly nod towards baby-making rather than confronting this epidemic head on. So here are six artists bucking the trend…


Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy’s practice is a joyous sprawl of pop cultural reference, creaky robotics, and splayed legs. His recent exhibition at Hauser & Wirth featured squeaky clean photo-paintings of monolithic, eye-level labia that succeeded in surrounding themselves with a buffer zone of embarrassment. And, as a centrepiece, the massive and utterly transfixing ‘Train, Mechanical’; a robotic orgy sculpture in which monstrous caricatures of George Bush sodomise pigs with orgasmic intensity, their hips thrusting, their buttocks clenching, their heads spinning.


Sarah Lucas

As the BBC documentary on Sarah Lucas ‘Two Melons and a Stinking Fish’ so eloquently sums up, she has made a career from bawdy visual puns. Her most famous work ‘Au Naturel’ consists of a bucket, a pair of melons, oranges and a cucumber laid out upon a mattress to crudely represent the bodies of a man and woman. And not much has changed, with her current exhibition at Sadie Coles, for example, featuring a sculpture of the female body paired down to the rudimentaries of genitalia – breasts grotesquely evoked via rancid fried eggs, the vagina replaced by a trademark chicken carcass.

Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović is often refered to as the “grandmother of performance art” In her piece,“Balkan Erotic Epic,”  Abramović explores pagan Serbian fertility rituals and the use of sex magick to affect everyday life. One example is how a woman would keep a fish tucked into her vagina overnight and then make a powder of it to add to her man’s coffee. After he drinks it, he will never stray.
Abramovic’s endurance is perhaps the most intriguing  element go her work. One of her pieces utilises seven flat-screen video images, to represent “Seven Easy Pieces,” which she performed at the Guggenheim in 2005. One of the “examples requires her to masturbate for eight hours continuously while hiding under a circular stage which holds the visitors (this was a re-creation of a Vito Acconci performance in 1972).

Jeff Koons

In 1989 the Whitney Museum asked Jeff Koons to make an artwork about the media on a billboard for the show ‘Image World: Art and Media Culture’: little did they expect the explicit direction that he would take, with Koons employing porn star La Cicciolina to create a series of paintings, photographs, and sculptures that portrayed the two in highly explicit sexual positions. The works examine the place of sexuality in visual culture, Koons blurring the boundaries between fine art and pornography. With these highly controversial works, Koons challenged the conventions of artistic taste, encouraging his audience to make their own decisions about what is acceptable.

Laurel Nakadate

Laurel Nakadate is an artist fascinated by sexual violence and the lascivious gaze of mankind. Her peeping tom-style video works, in which she enlists male strangers to engage in a variety of sexually-charged interactions (dancing to Britney Spears, playing strip poker or chase, life-drawing etc), make for awkward viewing, apparently forcing us to see Nakadate as men at their most unpleasant see her; as a vessel for sordid desire. One film depicts the artist acting out ‘love scenes with an absent, invisible lover’, with Nakadate energetically simulating one half of fornication, flinging herself about like a rag doll.

Pipilotti Rist

The naked body is ever-present in Pipilotti Rist’s video work , whether it is the surveillance cameras scanning down the artists body and into her jewel-stuffed crevices, or the in-depth video exploration of her vulva, named ‘Gina’s mobile’ – pun very much intended. Though such enforced intimacy – an abstracting force –, we are encouraged to see this physical entity ‘free of cultural and social taboos’, to comprehend it anew, either as a landscape, or as ‘a lump of whizzing atoms’.

Photo : Marina Abramović‘s “Balkan Erotic Epic

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