Sydney

View of “THE PUBLIC BODy .01,” 2016. Floor: Carter Mull, Broker, 2014. Walls, from left: Ryan McGinley, YEARBOOK, 2014; Abdul Abullah, Abdul-Hamid Ibrahim Percival Charles Charles Charles Charles, 2012; Sarah Lucas, Untitled, 2012. Photo: Jessica Maurer.

View of “THE PUBLIC BODy .01,” 2016. Floor: Carter Mull, Broker, 2014. Walls, from left: Ryan McGinley, YEARBOOK, 2014; Abdul Abullah, Abdul-Hamid Ibrahim Percival Charles Charles Charles Charles, 2012; Sarah Lucas, Untitled, 2012. Photo: Jessica Maurer.

“THE PUBLIC BODY .01”

Artspace, Sydney

View of “THE PUBLIC BODy .01,” 2016. Floor: Carter Mull, Broker, 2014. Walls, from left: Ryan McGinley, YEARBOOK, 2014; Abdul Abullah, Abdul-Hamid Ibrahim Percival Charles Charles Charles Charles, 2012; Sarah Lucas, Untitled, 2012. Photo: Jessica Maurer.

Assembled by Artspace executive director Alexie Glass-Kantor and curator Talia Linz, “THE PUBLIC BODY .01” was the first of a three-part exhibition series that will take place at yearly intervals. Edition one focused on contemporary artistic representations of sexualized bodies, and included works by seventeen artists from Australasia, the United Kingdom, China, and the United States. With thoughtful selections, the curators managed to create a fresh, celebratory, and provocative show on a familiar theme.

Although the works ranged from performance, video installation, photography, sculpture, and painting to mixed media, tapestry, and textiles, one unusual medium featured surprisingly strongly: digital photography as wallpaper. Contributions in this vein played on the tension between wallpaper as decorous architectural skin and the candid display of naked bodies. Covering a long wall opposite the gallery entrance, Ryan McGinley’s YEARBOOK, 2014, greeted visitors with a mosaic of vivid, poster-size studio portraits of beautiful young men and women—members of New York’s “creative community”—in the nude. While each individual assumes a distinctive demeanor, collectively the photos impart youthful joie de vivre and a surprising wholesomeness. Sarah Lucas offered a caustic counterpoint to McGinley’s festival of uninhibited youth with her Untitled, 2012, wallpaper showing a spread-eagled, naked male wearing a fig leaf of raw steak. In another room, New Zealand painter Rohan Wealleans used the wallpaper format for his Bollywood version of central core imagery. Three dramatically magnified photographs from the series “[R18] Origins,” 2011—the title recalls Gustave Courbet’s notorious painting L’origine du monde (The Origin of the World, 1866)—revealed the open thighs and exposed vulvas of anonymous models whose genitals had been decorated with vibrant body paint and encrusted with cone-shaped barnacles of dried pigment.

At a time of ever-increasing traffic in explicit sexual imagery in cyberspace, several works manipulated porn iconography in unconventional and inventive ways. Berlin-based Australian artist Lyndal Walker’s “SILK CUT” series, 2014–15, was a collection of pure silk scarves color printed with photographic close-ups of erect penises. With romantic titles such as Alone with You Tonight, 2014, and I Love It When You Read to Me, 2015, the delicate scarves are to be stroked and unfurled to reveal the penile portraits they bear. Claire Lambe’s small photographic print Remembering me, me., 2015, displayed a urinating penis painted gold—a send-up of the male cum shot as the crowning achievement of porn narratives. A bead- and diamante-encrusted statue of a young male, Toby, 2013, by Paul Yore, celebrated orgasmic release in the idiom of kitsch, featuring a spray of semen fashioned out of branches of white beads. A previous exhibition of this work in Melbourne saw the artist slapped with child-pornography charges that were later dropped.

Yore’s troubles suggest the risks that Artspace took to stage this exhibition of explicit sexual imagery. But still more striking was the art of curating on display. The dialogue between works enlivened even those that would have been of interest in any case. An example was the contrast between two other “pornographic” works. Sterling Ruby’s nine-channel video installation The Masturbators, 2009, dispensed entirely with the thin fantasy scenarios of hard-core porn. Arranged to encircle spectators, the large screens showed muscular, solitary male porn actors in a cell-like room, vocally masturbating to orgasm before an unmanned camera. There was something desire-crushing and mechanical about this onanistic endurance exercise, which may be the point. In contrast, Community Action Center, 2010, a sixty-nine-minute video by A. K. Burns and A. L. Steiner, presented a woman-focused expansion of the aesthetics of pornography and erotica that brilliantly validated the curators’ advocacy of nonmainstream depictions of sexual desire.

Toni Ross