In Rotterdam, the narrative of the erotic is above all the narrative of every-day clumsiness. In its triviality, it reflects the clumsiness of this eroticism itself. Or else, it is perhaps the great helplessness of artistic practice. The appeal of an insignificant little photo or drawing to the artist cutting photos out of porn magazines. Artists such as Patrick van Caeckenbergh, who incorporates various vaginal forms into the structure of a Gothic leaded-glass window, thus adding the suggestion of heavenly glory to his erotic handiwork. Rob Perree, responsible with Lydia Schouten for Erotic Desire, combines a bedroom photo of Sophie Calle with his report of a visit to a porn shop in New York. ‘Literarised’ moments of wet-mac voyeurism: The upper body is according to the book. Broad, the shoulders not too full and a somewhat muscled chest. Not too much. Rambo has never been popular with our type oj people. His firm nipples stick proudly out of his chesthair. He looks at me with his large, brown eyes.
‘With whom would I like to wrinkle the bedspread', could have been the motto for the ambience of this somewhat arbitrary collection of erotic material. An image of eroticism from the category with-or-without-briefs, of the same or the opposite sex, with a slight preference for the antiseptic image language of advertising. No hardcore. Because, in spite of the fact that the shadows moving on beds amuse themselves with dildos and one another, they are always recognisable as eroticised bodies. Pierre Keller raises the pornographic picture to an artistic and civilised level with blow-ups of suggestively mysterious rituals with boys’ bodies. Previously, such pictures were perhaps mutually exchanged like small secret icons, now they are placed into an artistic context. But the ephebe, now used as an everyday object, has still preserved its sacral character. It is different with Nan Goldin, who brings eroticism to life beyond the familiar ritual codes, taking photos of the friends around her. She extracts from their homely encounters a remarkably intense mood, elevated above everyday reality. Does she consciously gather such photogenic friends around her, or are we all eroticised in the eyes of someone open to it?
Indubitably, there are more gratifying activities than making lightly erotic art. It is often no more than a kitschy exhibitionism of naughty pictures cut out and then glued onto larger tableaus. Larry Clark is a master of this kind of clumsy boy's room erotics. Still, in a way I like it, particularly because, from the artistic point of view, his work suggests a modest average of pretension. In contrast to Lydia Schouten. who blows her trumpet as if she were unaware of the silence of eroticism and wishes only to emphasise the — albeit humanly legitimate — artistically dubious, noisy side of eroticism. Or to Sandi Fellman, who makes use of a kind of blown-up aesthetics not justified anywhere. The flowers of Mapplethorpe, with their inescapable erotic aura, are usually exhibited together with his nudes.
In Rotterdam, they are presented in an unconventionally designed flower shop. Venomous colours and fragrances, fungi and decaying organisms in milk bottles in the shop window, evoke the image of nineteenth-century decadent aesthetics, greatly enhancing the work on show. The ideal place to suggest more than is actually happening. Similarly, Dorit Cypis’ contribution evokes incestuous undertones of a heart-rending nature. Framed photos of classic museum art in mantelpiece format, entitled My Fathers Nudes, with a suggestive image of intangible dimensions.
An unintentional effect of the cluttered presentation, spread over various locations, is that the visitor is encumbered with the sensation that, as a restless voyeur, head sunk deeply into the collar of his rain coat, he is in search of forbidden fruit. Unfortunately, this aspect has not been worked out well in the various contributions. What eventually makes Erotic Desire rather flat here and there, is the fact that quite a few artists have cleansed the erotic beauty of the forces of Evil and Sin. Jose Villarrubia shows theatrical portraits of sailors in a classic, purifying manner, Bruce Weber presents a postmodern variation of such paintings, and both have cleansed the bodies of any kind of evil. Schouten and Perree have done the same with the entire set-up. Aids, pornography, sexual aberrations; evil is given a place apart, as in the real art world of New York.
Erotic Desire has eventually become a puritan variation on the already puritan tone which has the New York art scene in its grasp. What we are now waiting for is an exhibition showing us a little less of Mapplethorpes and Webers modernist-erotic image of puritanism, with good and evil in separate compartments. A choice of possibilities for those who are willing to examine the image of eroticism in visual art with Genet, Pasolini or Fassbinder as a guideline!
translation Oliver & Wylie