Eroticism, of course, isn’t simply the domain of female artists. In the case of Hesse and Wilke, Nairne finds an eroticism that responds to something universal: anticipation of death. Both artists died of cancer at early ages (Hesse at 34, Wilke at 52).
“I’m interested in how their experiences of death might have sparked an interest in the psychic drives and a kind of eros that emerges in their work as a counterpoint to thanatos,” Nairne said recently.
It’s significantly more intriguing to think of “erotic” artwork—by Hesse, Wilke, O’Keeffe, and Oppenheim, to name a few—not in terms of the myriad ways in which female genitalia can be represented, but in the drives that spur its making. Rebelling against mortality, these women generated vibrant, lively, and forceful forms that still buzz with intensity decades after their making.