Beyond the Gaze: Reclaiming the Female Form After Nochlin

Mara Naselli in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_2960 Feb. 06 20.01I recently wandered through the Art Institute of Chicago and came upon Woman in Tub by Jeff Koons. His work is recognizable from a distance, and I often don’t stop to look. This time, I paused.

The porcelain sculpture is from his 1988 Banality series. A nude figure is seated in an incongruously small tub, one knee up, the other submerged or maybe missing. In the frothy water floats a heart-shaped sponge and what might be a colorful party hat. A blue breathing tube protrudes vertically from the suds as the woman’s mouth, rimmed in red lipstick, is open in an expression of shock, or perhaps, the artist hopes, delight. She clutches her breasts with her hands. A nipple peeks out from between fingers tipped with red nail polish, and the inside of her mouth is a toothless black hole. Her head, sliced off just above the nose, forms a flat, glassy white plane. The odd arrangement, amputations, and impossible dimensions are weirdly dreamlike. “When I was a kid, my grandparents had an ashtray on a table in their television room,” reads the artist’s statement on the didactic plaque. “It was a small porcelain of a girl in a bathtub. It was white, with pink and blue details, and the legs went back and forth. As a kid I was mesmerized. My Woman in Tub[1988] comes from that, though it also references Manet and Degas. I had such an experience of awe looking at that object.”

Many artists have taken the woman at her bath as a subject. Degas, Manet, Courbet, Picasso — all painted the bathing female nude in the modern era.

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