The Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude exhibition is currently on at The Courtauld Gallery in London. Egon Schiele was a big, big fan of the vagina and that is clear in his pornographic watercolors. He contrasts pink vaginas with black stockings without conforming the usual sideways pose of a reclining nude, commonly seen throughout history. He was radical with his nudes.
Enough about the male gaze and objectification of our lovely lady parts. Here are how some female artists portrayed, celebrated, and used the vagina in their work.
“I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.”
O’Keeffe’s gorgeous paintings of flowers are made all the more beautiful by the fact that they are also, mostly, vaginas. She played with color in a way that often made her audience interpret a shell or a calico rose as a vulva or labia. O’Keeffe explored the female form in one of its most intimate regions through use of nature and landscape, which I think signifies a tenderness and love for the beauty of the vagina and woman alike. Unlike many male painters who painted the vagina as an object of their desire or something to worship as ‘giver of life,’ O’Keeffe is more intimate with the subject—she has one. Her portrayals of the vagina are still erotic but she is in charge of the eroticism which gives her work an entirely different feel to the way, say, a vagina-adoring Schiele would lovingly paint it. There is a sense of comfort in it.
Oppenheim was a surrealist—a movement that emerged in the 30’s and was therefore inescapably male-centric. Her sculpture “Object,” a teacup, spoon, and saucer covered in fur is up for debate as to whether it is truly a ‘vaginal’ work of art. There is no denying the connotations the mind makes, which she surely was aware of when she made the piece. It seems that the piece may well be a “youthful joke” (Oppenheim’s words), but I think it is one that pokes fun by contrasting the traditionally masculine sculptures made from strong sturdy materials. I like to think that is the meaning behind the piece, and not just what Picasso said about covering anything with fur over lunch one day and that she joked about her teacup needing it to keep warm—though that is also true.
Because Tompkin’s paintings are photorealistic; they can’t be debated in terms of how much they are vaginal in nature. They don’t leave much to the imagination. Her paintings were produced in the 60’s and 70’s, and were taken from pornography stills—radical for their era. Tompkins was a second-wave feminist and demanded people look at the vagina and intercourse so close up and so realistic that it left many people uncomfortable.
There’s a little part of me that squeals in delight at Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party.” I mean who doesn’t want to see a vagina in the style of Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf, right? I don’t mean to undermine it, though. This piece is a monumental triangle with 39 places set for ‘the dinner party,’ each place commemorating a historical figure, goddess, or woman of importance. She uses a variety of mediums to portray these vaginal monuments including ceramics and China painting. To go with the 39 monuments, there are also tiles along the floor naming 999 other important women. The piece celebrates and honors the achievements of women throughout the images, which makes me squeal in delight once more.
I’ve detailed only a few of the women that have looked at the vagina and used it as a symbol in their artwork. See also performance artists Valie Export, Deborah De Robertis, and artist of many mediums Hannah Wilke.
The vagina is a magical and powerful thing in life and art.