A Brief Survey of X-Rated Art [NSFW]

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The words “art whore” get thrown a lot these days… Surely, there are reasons why artists tread the line between visual art and pornography and between performance art and sex work other than to titillate, provoke and anger the public. Chinese artist Cheng Li was recently sentenced to a labor camp for performing such risque acts — and under a repressive political regime to boot! In light of this risktaker and in tribute of all those controversy-makers that create out of our most carnal acts — or try to — let’s survey some specimens of this art trend. Make your own conclusions. Oh, and this one is most definitely not for sensitive types.

Let’s get warmed up with reigning performance art diva Marina Abramović herself. Her performances and re-performances have often involved nudity, but her 1976 Role Exchange was an actual X-rated act of art, or so some photos like to suggest. To celebrate her 10 years as a professional artist she exchanged roles with a woman who had worked for 10 years as professional sex worker. The woman took Abramović’s place at her art opening. For four hours, they took on full responsibilities of each other’s professions.

In 2004, artist Andrea Fraser exhibited her one-hour silent video piece titled Untitled. The controversial, self-reflexive piece of art world commentary featured a taped seduction and consummation of contractual terms worked out between the artist and an art collector who reportedly paid $20,000 “not for sex,” according to the artist, but “to make an artwork.”

Chinese artist Cheng Li made the same point about the art world’s “popular trend of commercializing art” that is “nothing but a trade of sex for commercial benefits,” but took a much greater risk. For Art Whore, he performed a graphic sexual act on a balcony and in the basement of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Beijing with a partner, before a private audience. Despite support from the artist community and his family, he was sentenced to a year of “reeducation” at a “labor camp” for “causing a disturbance” this week.

Russia’s most notorious performance art shock crew Voina stormed the Timiryazev Museum of Biology in Moscow with a full on orgy entitled Fuck for Your Heir the Little Bear, referencing soon-to-be-elected president Dmitry Medvedev’s nickname and, presumably, Russia’s dangerously low birthrate. The action was followed a few years later by an from their ongoing anarchist instructional series — How to Snatch a Chicken: A Tale of How One Cunt fed the Whole of the Group Voina, wherein, to comment on Russia’s crooked food price inflation, a chicken was smuggled out of a grocery store. Guess how.

Spanish Artist Santiego Sierra’s Penetrados (The Penetrated) served as an “allegorical connection between the conquest of the Americas by the Spanish” with a 45-minute, eight-act video that expressed the systematic violence and vulgarity of his country’s history through anal penetration. The acts alternated race and gender paring in “a mathematical formula” of “fluctuating outcomes.”

NYC artist Richard Kern currently works in a genre many would classify as softcore porn, but before all that softness, he started out as a transgressive filmmaker/video artist collaborating repeatedly with No Wave musician Lydia Lunch. “It’s the ultimate date move for psychos,” John Waters wrote in a review of Kern and Lunch’s Fingered. “It’s the best hillbilly-punk-art-porno movie in the world and I always show it to people very late at night to make them happy.”

Xtra Magazine called Jess Dobkin’s It’s not Easy Being Green “a jaw-dropping, show-stopping performance.” At several performance and queer arts festivals in Toronto in 2009, Dobkins painted herself entirely green and lip-synced a Kermit the Frog song while her partner (dressed as Jim Henson) penetrated her with a gloved fist in an new take on the classic ventriloquist act.

A most established avant garde master like Matthew Barney can afford to take the artistic risk of de facto masturbation with a spinning clog of gigantic, custom-constructed machine. That he did in Hoist.

Egon Schiele’s penchant for young females was well documented. Often, his models would pose mid X-rated activity. The masterful artist and major creep got arrested for particularly overzealous participation in 1912.

Production photo via G J

Pulling the opposite of a Richard Kern, former pornographer Lawrence Weiner teamed up with cinematographer Kiki Allgeier for a highly conceptual erotic flick Water in Milk Exists . Essentially: Hipsters take turns fucking and discussing architectural philosophy, central to the moan-diluted monologues is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s quote that “The placing of two bricks together is the basis for all structures.” Bodies. Bricks. Yeah. Got it.

American performance artist Bob Flanagan, known outside of the art world for his appearance in the widely banned Nine Inch Nails video “Happiness in Slavery,” was born with and died from cystic fibrosis. The pain and problematic treatment throughout his life inspired his art, which constituted of performing acts of extreme masochism, sometimes involving self-mutilation and X-rated elements. He also had a wicked sense of humor.

Andres Serrano is no stranger to controversy, having had his piece Piss Christ repeatedly attacked as recently as this year. Not all his works were meant to be provocative, but this one was. Presenting our finishing touch: Ejaculate in Trajectory.