Lea Lublin

Galerie Yvon Lambert

A curious feature of current French culture is the absence, in a terrain marked by its feminist discourse, of a parallel artistic practice. The psychoanalytic writings of Jacques Lacan and the research centered around the Ecole Freudienne, the theoretical work of Julia Kristeva, Michele Montrelay, Luce Irigary, and a host of women writers have provided a framework for sexual studies in other nations, influencing literature, visual arts, and film. But despite this presence and the insistence of a strongly patriarchal culture, French artists have responded with silence, repeating the established position of women. Hence the importance of this recent exhibition of work by Lea Lublin in exposing purposefully hidden aspects of sexuality in art.

Lublin’s project in this series of acrylic-and-photo-collage paintings consists of an investigation of a “libidinal” econnomy of representation. Borrowing a strategy employed by Kristeva she addresses the depiction of Madonna and child in Northern and Southern Renaissance paintings, revealing the sexual fantasies that underlie such supposedly neutral works and exposing their sublimation in pictorial composition and color. At stake here is art as a return to the pleasures of the maternal body, to the union that precedes the splitting necessary for the formation of subjectivity. The figuration of motherhood assumes salience in that the dyad of mother and child—the latter a substitute for the phallus—represents the union precluded under paternal, symbolic law, and is therefore the point of eternal phantasmic return. For this reason, as Lublin states in her wall-stenciled notes, the image displays the regression of the painter to “the stage of his forgotten psycho-sexual experience,” in a schema unconsciously reproduced through centuries of art.

Lublin’s strategy in each painting is to enlarge photographed sections of one or several works so as to isolate and emphasize their libidinal elements. Conforming or opposing shapes show the “displacement” of sexuality into color and line, while a series of drawings serves to delineate the phantasmic content. In each case it is the infant who is the focus of pictorial space, as of narrative interest, and attention is directed to the mother’s hands as they cross its body in implicitly sexual caresses. The hands glide over the body, now smoothing flesh or fondling penis, now restraining the child’s recalcitrant form in a gesture of possession or pressing it to the mother, denying separation. It is impossible from this presentation not to see these images for their sexual connotations, just as it is difficult not to find in them evidence of fantasies of maternal seduction. And what they suggest, by extension, is the eroticism enacted in and through pictorial representation, in a striking challenge to art-historical repressions.

Kate Linker