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For The Pleasure Of Looking: The 2011 Kinsey Juried Art Show

The Kinsey Institute's Sixth Annual Juried Art Show has opened at the School of Fine Arts Gallery on the Bloomington campus. In its early years, the juried art show was displayed in the Kinsey's Morrison Hall gallery, which houses their permanent collection of artworks and most special exhibitions. By 2009, though, the show had grown so large it moved to Fine Arts.

This year's show elicited 775 submissions from 354 artists in 36 states and nine countries. 100 pieces were ultimately selected by Christopher Bedford, of Ohio State University, along with SoFA Director Betsy Stirratt, and the Kinsey's own associate curator Garry Milius. In addition to judges' "Best in Show" award, those attending the opening night reception were invited to cast their vote for the Gallery Visitors' Choice.

At the May 20th opening, gallery patron Jim Dietz was homing in on Los Angeles artist Adam Allen's Arttickle 1 Take 1 as his pick. "It's functional, as well as art," Dietz noted, laconically.

Risque Parlor Pieces

The porcelain tissue dispenser is a sly piece, reminiscent of a naughty Victorian artifact that one brought out only in certain company. The ceramic sculpture depicts the mid-section of a female form, bent forward at the waist, offering tissues from an unlikely outlet. Although the sculptural figure is the one bending over, it puts the user-especially one with the sniffles-in an awkward position, to say the least.

The curious passerby is put in a similar quandary by another piece, one that could have been salvaged from a local brothel, circa 1890. Toni Billick's Sheepy Gone Wild consists of an ornate gilt frame containing what looks like the underside of a furry black sheep, retrofitted with a peephole. If you're bold enough to sneak a peek, you are rewarded with a little movie of a person in a sheep costume on a swing.

Scopophilia, or the love of looking, is a traditional component of the erotic, especially if the glances are stolen. That Edouard Manet's Olympia-the model was a well-known, highly paid call girl-confronted every spectator in the 1865 Paris Salon with her direct gaze, changed the usual dynamic. Before Olympia, only men got to stare.

The Picture Has A Moustache

Almost a hundred and fifty years later, artists Niki Grangruth and James Kinser have revisited Manet's controversial painting with their collaborative photographic reproduction. The winner of the Kinsey's "Best in Show" for 2011, Olympia (After Manet) provokes a few double takes.

"People say, oh, it's really beautiful, from far away," explains Grangruth, "and then when they get up and realize he has the chest hair, he has the beard, still, they say…'Oh.'"

Kinser, a six-foot tall bald man with a beard, is the model for Olympia in the prize-winning photo. You may know James from such photos as The Girl With the Pearl Earring (After Vermeer), The Mona Lisa (after Leonardo), and The Birth of Venus (after Botticelli).

"That was a whole adventure unto itself," Kinser chuckles, "on the Chicago lakefront at sunrise."

In recreating well-known paintings by great masters and recasting the female subject of those paintings as a man, the collaborators undermine traditional gender roles. "Almost always, James is addressing the camera," Grangruth explains, "because we want him to be seen as a very active part of the process and not just a passive model."

"We're bringing the hyper-masculine and the hyper-feminine together," Kinser concludes, "and the direct gaze solidifies that, with a sense of ownership."

Nude As The News

But in another piece in the show, neither the subject nor the viewer is allowed the sense of ownership-or pleasure-that comes with looking. Hashim Hathaway's photo of a buxom nude, cropped below the head and above the knees, is stamped with letters that can be read from across the gallery, spelling out O B S C E N I T Y.

"The letters block the natural view," Hathaway explains. "What you see is not what is there, it's a distortion." A photographer who specializes in nudes, Hathaway was inspired to make the piece while watching a television news report about an obscenity trial. "When somebody calls something obscene," he notes, "it means it has no value, and should not be viewed."

Hathaway has found that the process of participating in a photo shoot and looking at the results gives the non-professional models he mainly works with a way to reclaim their own body image. "I think it's almost therapeutic," he ventures. The winner of the Gallery Visitors' Choice award, Obscenity, demonstrates how censorship short-circuits that process.

It's a sober reminder in a garden otherwise teeming with earthly delights. The broad array of contemporary media represented in the 2011 Kinsey Juried Art Show extends to saucy neon signs, video of mating moths, Pyrex sex toys, photos appropriated from social networking sites, and a rhinestone football.

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