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The greatest American artists that straddle sex

via Dazed Digital

The United States of America has been home to many significant and influential movements over time: the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, and not forgetting the sexual revolution. So even while Europe has been the source of much progressivity – try Meret Oppenheim’s Object (1936), a homage to cunnilingus, or Rodin’s many erotic sculptures – the land of the free has also been the origin of much summer loving. Sixteenth century Italy may have the cool eroticism of Bronzino, ancient India may have the great Hindu sex text Kama Sutra, and England may have the 102 names that British artist Tracey Emin sewed into her tent, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, but America is home to The Guild of Erotic Artists. It is the country that invented the glow in the dark Karma Sutra – a real piece of art – but it is also home to many forward thinking artists who use sex as their specialist subject.

So we’ve decided to lay sex in American art bare, with a list of our favourite American artists that have straddled and grappled with the two-backed beast. Just don’t say Moana Lisa.

The provocative and innovative American sculptor Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris on Christmas day. Romantic origins, but her work was quite the opposite, becoming known for its sexually-explicit and traumatic nature, which was inspired by the childhood discovery that her English governess was her father’s mistress. For the piece “Destruction of the Father” (1974), Bourgeois cast hunks of mutton and beef in plaster and then covered them with a layer of latex, to devastating effect.

Taking influence from the Japanese shunga paintings from many centuries ago, known for their graphic depiction of sex, Jeff Faerber gave his own take, but with Western figures and modern sex toys. With hilariously dry titles like “A brief respite in a discussion of Keynesian economics as it relates to GDP”, the Brooklyn-based artist captures these no-holds-barred scenes in a messy celebration of sex.

Nan Goldin began taking black-and-white photographs as a teenager in Boston, Massachusetts, with her early work a celebration of the drag queen subcultural lifestyle to which she belonged. Goldin’s images are intensely personal, sexual, transgressive, documenting mainly what she called her “tribe”: family, friends, and lovers, in vivid colour photography. Her work was once censored in Brazil due to some photographs that depicted sexual acts next to children. Read our recent long-read with the photographer, here.

Bill Clinton may famously claimed to “have not had sexual relations with that woman”, but San Francisco-based artist Justine Lai, ever the contrarian, made a series called Join or Die, in which she painted herself having sex with every US President in history. One at a time, she explores the humorous and humanizing notion of depicting herself in the throes of passion with every American leader, with some of the paintings featuring not one, but two Bushes. Lai describes “inserting herself” into the timeline of Presidential authority to subvert it, not simply depicting Presidential authority inserting itself into her.

Ann Hirsch is an artist who tackles the issue of sex in the most modern of ways. The 29-year-old Brooklyn video and performance artist has done a two-year stint as Caroline, a YouTube cam whore with almost two million hits, a cybersex play that’s set in an AOL chatroom in the early, not-so-barren days of the internet, as well as drawings, prints, and sculptures that explore the minefield that is known as adolescent sexuality

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

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