Eroticism beyond the flesh

How to depict eroticism, an abstract, subjective feeling that accompanies something as embodied as sex? Eros Rising: Visions of the Eroticism in Latin American Art at the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) offers a broad spectrum of answers to that initial question, sometimes through abstraction and sometimes through figurative transformations of the body.

Curated by Mariano López Seoane and Bernardo Mosqueira, Eros rises shows works on paper by Artur Barrio, Oscar Bony, Carmelo Carrá, Feliciano Centurión, David Lamelas, Carlos Motta, Wynnie Mynerva, La Chola Poblete, Tadáskía and Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro.

The works focus on representations of eroticism that bring its elusiveness to the fore. “What we see in the works in this exhibition is not a portrayal of sexual experience as an intelligible encounter between two human bodies, but an examination of the depths and complexity of erotic experience and the transformative energies it can unleash,” the curators explain. from. in an accompanying essay.

Eroticism beyond the flesh
Artur Barrio, “Erotic Composition” (1967), graphite on paper, 12 3/8 × 8 7/8 inch (© the artist, photo Arturo Sánchez)
Feliciano Centurion, Spread from untitled (nd), graphite, ink and paper cut out in notebook, 8 3/8 × 12 1/8 inch (© the artist, photo Arturo Sánchez)

The curators add complexity to the conversation about eroticism by including 10 intergenerational artists with their own stylistic languages, identities and experiences. “Something that was very important to us was the clear sense that there is no universal, defining erotic experience. That’s why we talk about the plurality of eroticism,” Mosqueira said during a walkthrough of the exhibition.

Eros rises grew out of three pastel drawings by David Lamelas: “At Sunrise”, “Lluvia de estrellas” and “On the Moon, Crash of Light” (all 2015), in which a tongue curves suggestively upwards. The drawings are filled with energy, oscillating between explosions and celestial bodies to represent what the curators call ‘cosmic eroticism’. The underside of the gallery walls has been sprayed the same shade of pink as those featured in “On the Moon, Crash of Light,” immersing viewers in the experience of the show: we’re in the realm of Eros.

The heavenly and the firmament are in dialogue with the earthly in pieces such as “Composição erótica” (Erotic Composition) (1967) by the Luso-Brazilian conceptual artist Artur Barrio, as well as a date there (I-VI) (2022), a series of six abstract drawings by Tadáskía that tell a story of three forces through the interaction of three colors – blue, pink and yellow – that are separated from each other and then come together, and the intricate “Díptico Um” (diptych One) (2022) by Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, whose practice is based on psychology and Afro-Brazilian syncretic religions.

David Lamelas, left: “At Sunrise” (2015), pastel and pencil on paper; right: “On the Moon, Crash of Light” (2015), pastel and pencil on paper (photo Carmen Graciela Díaz/Hyperallergic)

The common thread between the 18 works of the exhibition is a sense of surrealism in which the body is fragmented or moved. The tongue as an erotic organ is emphasized in Lamelas’ drawings and in two photos by Oscar Bony – “El beso” (The Kiss) and “Untitled”. Both photos were censored when they were first shown in Argentina in 1976, suggesting a dangerous undercurrent to their playful foreplay.

A similar sensitivity is expressed by reframing or transforming the human body. In “Untitled” (1968), Italian-born Argentine Carmelo Carrá portrays a naked figure holding his genitals through a broken, translucent outline. An enchanting depiction of a demon with inflamed testicles and a penis, by Colombian artist Carlos Motta, “seduces more than it terrifies,” as the curators write. In this vein, Wynnie Mynerva’s watercolor “Formas de alargar un pene” (Ways to Enlarge a Penis) (2021) extends the phallus, springing from their work exploring sexual views and hierarchies.

tadaskia, a date there (I–VI) (2022), six drawings: dry pastel, charcoal and spray paint on paper, approx. 12 x 16 inch (photo Carmen Graciela Díaz/hyperallergic)

Delicate silhouettes of Feliciano Centurión – two on the walls of the gallery and others on the pages of a sketchbook that viewers can read on an iPad, including a depiction of Ulysses and of the Sirens – and watercolors by La Chola Poblete that recall cave paintings in Greek and Andean mythology, respectively, and explore the theme of desire.

Despite the relationship between eroticism and the body, the seductive, intimate in Eros rises offer visions of the erotic that relate to notions of the spiritual and of transcendence. From start to finish, this exhibition shows that eroticism in its infinite manifestations can be closer to the cosmic than to the earthly.

Wynnie Mynerva, “Formas de alargar un pene” (Ways to enlarge a penis) (2021), watercolor on paper, 38 1/4 × 29 1/2 inches (© the artist)
Carlos Motta, ‘Untitled’, from the series We the enemy (2019), colored pencil and watercolor on paper, 9 × 12 inches (© the artist)
Carmelo Carrá, “Untitled” (1968), marker on paper, 8 1/2 × 6 1/2 inches (© the artist)

Eros Rising: Visions of the Eroticism in Latin American Art runs through September 30 at the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) (50 East 78th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Mariano López Seoane and Bernardo Mosqueira. In conjunction with the exhibition, a panel discussion will be held on September 29, presented by the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU.

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