I Smell Sex

An exhibition
curated by

Barbara DeGenevieve
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

  Barbara DeGenevieve

I smell sex -- hormones, assholes, piss, and pussy. The work in this exhibition makes me squirm, but it makes me laugh as well. These artists are unapologetic about their obsessions, which throughout the whole group seem to be located in fetishizing the body. There are extremes here -- from the conceptual absent body (Benes, Gonzalez-Torres, and Blanchon) to a naive but tender rendering of bodies copied from soft core porn (Filippi); from kitschy bitchiness (Santos) to the kitschy sublime (Tseng and Caris); from a political statement on gay visibility (Taylor) to the politics of personal abjection (DeSana and Steers). As an academic I feel I should intellectualize and theoretically analyze when all I really want to do is let the work take me somewhere, manipulate me, and then rough me up a bit. When it comes right down to it, I only want to spend time with work that makes me think and teaches me something while making my body react. This group does exactly that.

Judith Halberstam has said, "Desire has a terrifying precision." Neither desire, fantasy, nor fetishism is politically correct. They never have been and most likely, never will be. But these artists have known the necessity of exploring those messy and slippery spaces of desire and pleasure, of jumping into that big dark hole, face or fist first, into something as profoundly visceral as it is intellectual. A suspicion of deviance surrounds the sexualized body, especially if it's also a queer body. This radical resistance to cultural propriety excites me because it's insubordinate, disobedient, and unruly. The honesty with which these artists have exposed who they are -- who they know themselves to be -- ultimately becomes a mirror which reflects back to the viewer something about themselves. Caution: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.


Barbara DeGenevieve is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she teaches in the photography program. She is a multimedia artist and writer who works in video, photography, and performance. Her work has been supported by three Illinois Art Council Artist Fellowships, several travel grants, and an Art Matters Foundation Fellowship. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Fellowship in 1988 for her photographic work, and in 1994 was awarded another NEA Fellowship which was revoked by the National Council on the Arts because of her work's sexual content.


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