Art, Gender, and Sexuality at the Playhouse
At Playboy’s pop-up ‘Playhouse’ this past weekend, Pulitzer Prize winning art critic Jerry Saltz joined powerhouse artists Marilyn Minter, Xaviera Simmons, and Natalie White to discuss art, gender, sexuality, and how nudity has been perceived over the years. Setting the tone for the lecture through the current lens of #metoo, political correctness, sexual harassment, and Donald Trump’s most recent rape accusation, Saltz declared, “Time’s Up is not just an expression, it is an energy.” Pulsating with that aforementioned energy, the room (or in my case, my computer screen) was filled with excitement, hope, and perhaps intimidation from the legacy of the Playboy brand.
Marilyn Minter, Miley Hearts Planned Parenthood (2016). Photo: courtesy Planned Parenthood.
Joining panelist, Natalie White’s, efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, Playboy hosted a series of events championing feminism and pro sexual agency to bring attention to equal rights, as well as their summer issue, On Gender & Sexuality. Evolving with the times, a new generation of women editors at Playboy is working alongside strong, contemporary voices, such as these participants, to create a platform where people of all identities have agency over their bodies.
Questioning the relationship between nudity and art, as well as evolving perceptions of gender and sexuality, the discussion explored where the line between expression and objectification lies, and how can we change societal gaze and perception while remaining artistically authentic.
Xaviera Simmons, Landscape (Two Women) (2007). Photo: courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, Acquired through the generosity of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis.
Unanimously agreed upon by panel, male gaze, or perspective, is not going away. However, women can have and regain autonomy through their portrayals of the female form and of their personal experience.
“Equality is not a pie” Marilyn Minter responded. Meaning if someone else gets a slice, it does not take away from your share. Giving women and those who identify as female autonomy and recognition within the art world and our society should not threaten men or fellow female artists. Rather, they should be allies.
With nudity, in particular female nudity, at the forefront of this conversation, Minter, Simmons, and White advocated that artists identifying as women should own the production of these images that address sexuality and the female body. As the relationship between nudity and art continuously needs to be redefined as our society, and its understanding of gender and sexuality, evolves, it presents an opportunity for the historically disenfranchised to present their worldviews.
“It’s about being vulnerable to missing the narrative,” Xaviera Simmons explained. Beseeching viewers to understand and question art’s message and the artist’s point of view, Simmons spoke of how thoughtful dialogue, viewership, and art criticism can bridge cultural and gender divides.
Encouraging engaged viewership to challenge personal beliefs as well as the status quo, the panel also discussed whether our reception of art changes once we realize the gender and sexuality of the artist. “They come in thinking I’m exploiting myself or I must be stupid, or I must be a porn star, and they leave thinking the exact opposite,” said Natalie White.
Natalie White, Untitled. Photo: courtesy Natalie White For Equal Rights.
Each unapologetically reclaiming their own identity and sexuality through their art, it was captivating to listen to each incendiary figure detail the social and professional impacts of sex and nudity in an evolving world. Perhaps the most inspirational part of the lecture was learning how Minter, Simmons, and White all give back financially, educationally, politically, and through empowering their audiences to make equality a reality.
“You’re all brave and you are changing the world,” Jerry Saltz concluded.
Full Panel Discussion Available @ bit.ly/playboypanel