Arm i arm, Nationalmuseum 1866, Öfre vestibulen, xylografi, Foto: Erik Cornelius / Nationalmuseum 2004.
Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, 1751-1814. NMGrh 2350 Olja på duk. Mått: (h x b) 73 x 59 cm, Foto: Erik Cornelius / Nationalmuseum 2004.
François Boucher, Leda och svanen/Leda and the Swan, NM 771, Olja på duk. Mått: (h x b) 59,5 x 74 cm. Ram: (h x b x dj) 86 x 100 x 11 cm, Foto: Erik Cornelius / Nationalmuseum 2004.
Eug¸ne Jansson, Atleter/Athletes. NM 2133, Olja på duk. Mått:: (h x b) 261 x 201 cm. Ram: (h x b x dj) 271 x 211 x 7 cm, Foto: Erik Cornelius / Nationalmuseum 2004.
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Desire, Power and Identity
June 24-August 10, 2008
Queer – Desire, Power and Identity explores how notions of sex, gender, masculinity, femininity, erotic and sexual desire have influenced the creation and interpretation of artworks. It also demonstrates how earlier visual art can be employed to reflect contemporary views and highlight topical issues. The 30 artworks in the exhibition are selected from the Nationalmuseum collections.
Historical portraits demonstrate that masculinity and femininity have been expressed in many different ways throughout history. Conventions and norms of how men and women should behave and look have changed through the centuries.
The shifting of norms through the ages lends support to the American queer theorist Judith Butler’s thesis that there is no such thing as a “real”, “true”, or “original” gender. Instead, she describes gender as a complex staging dependent on social conventions and cultural precepts. Queer theory regards gender as an unstable and changeable category that has to be performed constantly. We learn how to perform our ascribed gender identity — it is not innate. It is incorporated into our bodies. Take a look at the body language in the family portrait here and compare it with our body language of today.
Throughout art history, certain artworks and motifs have found a special place in the hearts and minds of men and women interested in homoerotica. They have turned into icons of a common cultural heritage, often unknown to the heterosexual majority.
In times when homosexual acts were forbidden or taboo the motifs functioned as a kind of subcultural identity tag, signalling one’s erotic and sexual interests to others in the know.
Images of Saint Sebastian and sculptures by Meunier have long been found in the homes of homosexual men. For women who love women, the ancient poet Sappho has been an icon, and Diana, the goddess of the hunt, has been popular. In the 20th century, homosexual artists incorporated these visual traditions into their work.
Camp is a term for an aesthetics focusing on contradictions of profundity and superficiality, sincerity and artificiality, sentimentality and cynicism. Camp is also about appropriating images and motifs, regardless of their original intentions, and creating an alternative image and cultural history.
For whose gaze were all these images of naked women and men created?
The relationship between viewer and image is traditionally described in heterosexual terms: the viewer is a male subject that demands a female object.
But how to understand images of posing naked men? And women viewers? Women who regard women with sexual desire and men who regard naked men erotically? And all other visual enjoyment that cannot be categorised according to heterosexual divisions?
From the 16th century onwards male artists who drew young men for a male audience accentuated the sensuality of the body. Boucher may have painted ample, romping women for male peeping-toms but it did not prevent the paintings from being collected by women in the 18th century.
The standing figure in The Mirror of Time opposes the simple divisions between men and women and invites looks and desires that challenge heterosexuality.
In the latter part of the 19th century, the term homosexuality was established. Same sex sexual acts had naturally been performed before but under different names. Women and men who called themselves homosexual sought the company of one another, creating social networks.
Sexual and erotic desire is often stated as a source of artistic creativity, almost always referring to heterosexual attraction. Artists finding creativity in same-sex desire have often been written out of history, or they have had parts of their works toned down, disregarded or ignored. What notions of sexuality and creativity underlie the processes of inclusion and exclusion in the history of art?
Queer theory provides us with possibilities to question and sabotage the categories masculine and feminine. It also disrupts the notion that there are only two natural genders and that heterosexuality is the norm. By depicting gender and desire in unexpected ways, concepts can be challenged.
Queer – Desire, Power and Identity illustrates the manner in which art and images have been employed in order to question and undermine a heterosexual norm, providing us with tools to understand why certain motifs have become icons. It also sheds light on what has been included and excluded from the history of art.
Exhibition curator is Veronica Hejdelind.