Two weeks into my home confinement, the New York City health department advised that, during the Covid-19 outbreak, “you are your safest sex partner.” A few days later, the New York Times ran a feature on nonagenarian sex educator and artist Betty Dodson, author of Sex for One: The Joy of Loving (1987).1 It therefore felt fitting that my first expedition, when I hauled myself away from the news, should be a visit to Wilfried Lentz’s new Rotterdam gallery to see “Bold Head with Tongue,” an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Andrea Éva Győri, who has spent a number of years studying and depicting female masturbation, fantasies, and orgasm.
“Bold Head with Tongue” draws on themes of female desire which have long preoccupied Győri. For Manifesta 11, hosted by Zürich in 2016 and entitled “What People do for Money,” Győri, like all the participants, paired up with a local professional from outside the contemporary art world. She worked for five months with a clinical psychologist/sexologist, participated in a practical masturbation course, and later held private sessions in which she drew women masturbating. In addition to exhibiting her drawings, Győri published her research in a weighty artist’s book titled Vibration Highway (2018).2
Although Győri describes her process in terms of consent, mutual trust, intimacy, and pleasure, it was hard not to recall the signaling color of a very different sort of sex-trade when I stepped into the scarlet-carpeted exhibition space, located on the ground floor of a house in Rotterdam’s former red-light district. Inside, however, I discovered an immaculate display that chastely asserted “art gallery,” not “boudoir.” “Bold Head with Tongue” comprises a modest grouping of exuberantly colored and sketched paintings and drawings that lean and lie atop chest-high pedestals as white as bleached and sun-dried bed linens. A palette of juicy yellows, reds, oranges, and blues is tempered by the crisp, clinical light of a neon ceiling fixture. Licking, rather than penetration, dominates the sexual fantasies represented in the energetic paintings that line the gallery’s only room. In Licking Expedition, Burning Tongue Issue, Evil Tongue Mechanism, and Lick your Finger After (all works 2019) identical humanoids play with themselves and each other, causing peachy paint to ebb, flow, and puddle in rouged erogenous heads, bottoms, labia, and fingertips.
The exhibition’s tidy, formal arrangement contrasts with the lustful chaos of licking tongues, probing fingertips, and splayed legs running rampant in the works. This disjunct calls attention to a mind-body dualism Győri questions in her ongoing research into the mind’s role in orgasm. Győri has immersed herself in an entangled libidinal economy of desire, pleasure, and commerce, setting herself in the company of predecessors Carol Rama, Judith Bernstein, and Dorothea Iannone. The fact that this economy turns on power is made explicit in captions penciled on some of Győri’s loose and expressive drawings, as in the series of works all individually titled Lick Your Finger After, which illustrates a trio of bald (bold) red humanoid figures coming together with frenzied hands and tongues. “AAAAAAAAHHHHH,” moans a caption, while another commands “Don’t move baby, lick yourself!!!”
While these drawings stem from Győri’s imagination, Loving Domination Portrait is sketched from life, and shows scenes of a woman spanking and massaging another woman’s behind. Győri denies that her life-drawing practice (the term she favors over “work”) is voyeuristic, which is a peculiar claim given the overwhelming presence of visual pleasure in her production (and in my appreciation of it). She compares the gaze of being watched while drawing to her own when watching her subjects’ ménages à moi, both of which tend to be private activities. I’m all for being rid of outdated gender binaries, which have overdetermined conceptions of the gaze: Győri’s portrayal of fantasmatic and observed psychosexual dynamics compellingly interrogates that power-play. When she records (and exhibits) a “girls’ night in,” however, it’s still worth asking whose erotic fantasies are being projected onto whom, and for whose consumption.
Original article here