November 2006, Philadelphia, PA - Bodies of Desire: Works on Paper by Willem de Kooning and Chloe Piene, running from January 16 – February 24, 2007 and curated by Klaus Ottmann, will combine a selection of de Kooning 's works on paper depicting women with Chloe Piene 's autoerotic charcoal drawings.
In the mid-1950s, Willem de Kooning surprised the artists and critics of his time by single-handedly resurrecting the female form, which had been largely abandoned by his peers. Between 1950-54 he created a series of paintings and works on paper on the theme of the Woman, which by some were compared to goddesses and by others, to whores. The women in these works were naked, either depicted singly or in pairs, usually standing or seated and facing the viewer, presented unashamedly sexual, with grossly enlarged mouths, eyes, breasts, and vaginas. De Kooning said later about these works: "Certain artists and critics attacked me for painting the Women, but I felt that this was their problem, not mine... I have to follow my desires. "
In 1966 de Kooning executed a second series of Women drawings, this time with his eyes closed. In these works, the women are less confrontational and more seductive, but just as brazenly sexual. What may have made these works so scandalous at the time was that, despite their stereotypical depiction, de Kooning 's Women seem less like (sex) objects and more like subjects that embody not simply the artist 's desire but a desire of their own. They recall the famous dictum by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan that desire is always the desire of the Other.
The young, Brooklyn-based artist Chloe Piene has been making diaphanous charcoal drawings of naked figures on paper and vellum based mostly on photographs of herself and, occasionally, other people since the late 1990s. The frenzied yet controlled energy of the lines in her drawings is evidence of their performative character. They are executed rapidly, or in Piene’s words, “it comes out in one shot.” Piene’s agitated style of drawing is a strangely alluring complement to her unsettling imagery, which often imbues its autoeroticism with Vanitas-type morbidity. Piene sees her work as riding the line “between the erotic and the forensic. " Unlike de Kooning’s drawings, which relocate the Self in the Other, Piene’s inscribe the Other in the Self. Her drawings are of her own body. Their delicate rawness and nakedness exude a wide array of emotions ranging from anguish to ecstasy. Unlike de Kooning’s, the sexuality in Piene’s drawings is less explicit. Anatomical details are veiled by the energy of her lines, while the erotic is being shifted from specific body parts to the lines themselves.
Piene is only one in a new generation of both male and female artists (Cecily Brown, Sue Williams, Kiki Smith, Matthew Barney, Jonathan Meese, to name but a few) whose works redefine art in terms of the body and take a closer look at the nature or shape of sexuality and gender.
The exhibition is curated by Klaus Ottmann, an independent curator and scholar based in New York. Mr. Ottmann most recently curated the Sixth International SITE Santa Fe Biennial (on view until January 7, 2007) and has been appointed as the curator for the 2007 Open ev+a exhibition in Limerick, Ireland. Bodies of Desire continues the Locks Gallery’s Curator’s Choice exhibitions. Previous curators include Barry Schwabsky, Richard Torchia, and David Cohen. An illustrated brochure with an essay by Ottmann will accompany the show.