Diana Widmaier-Picasso, Larry Gagosian, and Jeffrey Deitch Team Up for Miami Show of Eroticism in Art

Casey Lesser
Nov 30, 2016 12:24AM

Portrait of Diana Widmaier Picasso photographed in Paris by Fred Lahache for Artsy.

Diana Widmaier-Picasso has long been interested in eroticism and art. In 2005, she wrote a book about her legendary grandfather’s mastery of the topic, Picasso: Art Can Only Be Erotic. Widmaier-Picasso explains that Picasso himself didn’t make a distinction between art and sexuality. “For him it was all the same thing,” she told me earlier this month in New York. She took that principle as a starting point to look “all the way through art history at the very early representations of sexuality and how our society has evolved.” This week in Miami, Widmaier-Picasso’s vision of eroticism in modern and contemporary art finally realizes itself in exhibition form.

Titled “Desire,” the show is a collaborative effort by Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch to coincide with Art Basel in Miami Beach. It takes place from November 30th at Miami’s Moore Building. (This is the second year the pair have worked together in Miami, with 2015’s “Unrealism” focusing on figurative painting.) “Desire” features a roster of over 50 established and emerging artists, the majority of whom have worked with the two dealers in the past, but also a strong contingent of Widmaier-Picasso’s choosing who have not. Voyeurism, fantasy, and abstract expressions of desire are all at play in the wide variety of media present: sculpture, photography, painting, video, cartoons, drawings, and live performance. A number of works, like a series of photographs by the Argentinean filmmaker Gaspar Noé, have been created specifically for the show.

Alex Israel and Bret Easton Ellis, Trent Looked at Tara, 2016. ©Alex Israel and Bret Easton Ellis; image courtesy iStock and Gagosian; Photography: Josh White/


“We have artists in the vein of Marcel Duchamp, who was conceptualizing the idea of desire,” said Widmaier-Picasso. Duchamp, who famously invented the readymade, serves as an opposing modernist force to Picasso in the show’s selection. One Picasso included features “a woman, Jacqueline, in a rocking chair,” which Widmaier-Picasso tied to the desire through “the fact that the body is represented by sexual organs, kind of intertwined inside of her.” On the contemporary side, a new installation by Urs Fischer and Georg Herold involves live nude models and will produce real moments of voyeurism.

The show leans heavily on major male artists and, like art history itself, predominantly offers a view on men’s desire of women. There’s a film by Harmony Korine, a Jeff Koons painting from his “Made in Heaven” series featuring ex-wife, the pornstar La Cicciolina, and a Francis Picabia that Widmaier-Picasso calls “truly a masterpiece.” But a strong group of female artists are also represented, spanning from established figures like Cecily BrownMarilyn MinterJenny Saville, and Nan Goldin to emerging names like Tschabalala Self and Deana Lawson. “It’s important to address the woman,” said Widmaier-Picasso. “Traditionally the female body was more represented by men, so it’s good to show the opposite.” One of the highlights of the show is a series of works on paper that challenge heteronormative representations of love and sex by Tom of Finland, an artist who has gained posthumous fame for his exuberant homoerotic drawings.

Pablo Picasso, Femme Dans Un Rocking-Chair, 1956. ©2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Gagosian.

John Currin, A Fool with Two Young Women, 2013. ©John Currin. Photo Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian.

Some works, like John Currin’s painting of a threesome with two naked women foregrounded, take the exhibition’s theme literally, while others require greater interpretation on the part of the viewer. “I like when there are two layers of reading a work of art,” said Widmaier-Picasso. She explained that the extent to which the works represent an overt sexual interpretation of desire comes down to how each selected artist has approached the theme in their own practice. “Ed Ruscha was the very first one we thought of, an amazing artist who’s extremely interested in the field of desire even though the representations aren’t so obvious for the eyes.”

What also may not seem obvious at first is the show’s consideration of the ethics involved in representations of sexuality and eroticism. “The moral aspect and politics around sexuality is always something that has fascinated artists,” said Widmaier-Picasso, pointing particularly to artists’ efforts to subvert efforts by the establishment to hem in on eroticism, desire, and sexual expression. Included in the show are polaroids from Polish-French artist Balthus, known for controversial images of young girls. But a show like this also brings to mind the more recent battles between artists and social media giants like Facebook and Instagram over the ability to share images of work that contains nudity, not least because Deitch’s Instagram account was suspended after he attempted to use the image sharing platform to recruit participants for Fischer’s nude performance.

Ed Ruscha, Desire, 2013. ©Ed Ruscha. Photo by Benjamin Lee Ritchie Handler. Courtesy Gagosian.

It’s the effect on viewers created by works that straddle moral boundaries or catch them off guard that most excites Widmaier-Picasso. She says Jordan Wolfson’s work in particular has this effect on her because of the tension and irony he creates between the desire for something and the refusal of that desire. The exhibition features Wolfson’s Animation Masks (2011), an animated video that features a caricature of a Jewish man who flips through a copy of Vogue as he recites Richard Brautigan’s Love Poem (1967), and is presented in a specially conceived room within the newly renovated Moore Building. Great art, she said, “makes you wonder if it’s good to like it. It makes you forget about disaster.” With a rocky 2016 now coming to a close, that’s likely something that everyone can get behind.

Casey Lesser
Casey Lesser is Artsy’s Director of Content.