Iconic Women in Ecstasy, Redrawn

Austrian artist Michaela Spiegel’s newest show “Prises de Vue” features sensual pastel drawings, and marks her first solo exhibition in Paris in over six years. Now on view at Vanessa Quang Gallery,the series was based on stills from artsy soft-core pornographic and erotic films from the 20th century such as L’Empire des Sens (1976), 9 1/2 weeks (1986), and Emmanuelle (1974).

Spiegel imagines the women in the films as being “taken” or “captured,” both by the camera and by their sexual partners. By focusing on the female face in ecstasy, Spiegel removes the “male gaze” perspective that pervades most pornographic films, giving agency to the actresses in her images and privileging their pleasure. “These faces suggest dark worlds between sleep, hypnosis, ecstasy and death. Dazzled by their own pleasure, eyelids heavy with the ‘little death,’ the semi-open lips, these women tell of excitement and satisfaction,” says Spiegel.

The artist projected the photographic stills onto massive sheets of handmade Korean paper and then drew with black-and-white pastels onto the paper. The moody, sultry photorealistic images artfully capture intimate moments with a sex-positive spin. By appropriating soft-core pornography—a medium that is seen as exploitative to women—Spiegel is able to humanize the actresses by manipulating the color and composition of the original images. Spiegel’s pastel drawing of Kim Basinger from 9 ½ Weeks, which features the actress in bed with her eyes closed and a finger in her mouth with her tousled blond hair obscuring her face, is given new empowered meaning given the context of the film, wherein Basinger’s character gets involved in a passionate but unhealthy affair with a Wall Street executive played by Mickey Rourke.

Also included in the exhibition are a series of female faces from iconic films, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, as well as three videos that focus on exceptional women Marie Bonaparte, Anna Freud, and Gala Dali.

—Sola Agustsson 

Prises de Vue” is on view at Vanessa Quang Gallery Nov. 15, 2014–Jan. 7, 2015.

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