Eroticism Beyond the Flesh

How can you depict eroticism, an abstract, subjective emotion that accompanies something as physical as sex? Eros Rising: Visions of the Erotic in Latin American Art at the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) offers a wide range of answers to this initial question, sometimes through abstraction, sometimes through figurative transformations of the body.

Curated by Mariano López Seoane and Bernardo Mosqueira, Eros rises shows works on paper by Artur Barrio, Oscar Bony, Carmelo Carrá, Feliciano Centurión, David Lamelas, Carlos Motta, Wynnie Mynerva, La Chola Poblete, Tadáskía and Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro.

The works focus on representations of eroticism that emphasize its intangibility. “What we see in the works in this exhibition is not a representation of the sexual experience as an intelligible encounter between two human bodies, but rather an examination of the depth and complexity of erotic experience and the transformative energies it can unleash,” the curators explain in an accompanying text .

Artur Barrio, “Composição erótica” (Erotic Composition) (1967), graphite on paper, 12 3/8 × 8 7/8 in. (© the artist, photo Arturo Sánchez)
Feliciano Centurión, Spread of Untitled (nd), Graphite, ink, and paper cutout in notebook, 8 3/8 × 12 1/8 in. (© the artist, photo Arturo Sánchez)

The curators add complexity to the conversation about eroticism by involving 10 cross-generational artists with their own stylistic languages, identities and experiences. “Something that was very important to us was the clear feeling that there is no universal, defining erotic experience. That’s why we speak of the plurality of eroticism,” said Mosqueira during a tour of the exhibition.

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Eros rises was created from three pastel drawings by David Lamelas: “At Sunrise”, “Lluvia de estrellas” and “On the Moon, Crash of Light” (all 2015), in which a tongue curves suggestively upwards. The drawings are energetic, oscillating between explosions and celestial bodies to reflect what the curators call “cosmic eroticism”. The floor of the gallery walls is spray-painted the same shade of pink as in On the Moon, Crash of Light, immersing viewers in the show’s experience: We are in the realm of Eros.

In pieces like Composição erótica (Erotic Composition) (1967) by the Luso-Brazilian conceptual artist Artur Barrio, the heavenly and the firmament are in dialogue with the earthly a date there (I-VI) (2022), a series of six abstract drawings by Tadáskía that tell a story of three forces through the interplay of three colors – blue, pink and yellow – that separate and then come together, and the intricate “Díptico Um” (Diptych One ) (2022) by Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, whose practice is informed by psychology and Afro-Brazilian syncretic religions.

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David Lamelas, left: “At Sunrise” (2015), pastel and pencil on paper; right: “On the Moon, Crash of Light” (2015), pastel and pencil on paper (Photo Carmen Graciela Díaz/Hyperallergic)

The unifying thread between the 18 works in the exhibition is a sense of surrealism in which the body is fragmented or shifted. The tongue as an erotic organ is emphasized in the drawings by Lamelas and in two photographs by Oscar Bony – “El beso” (The Kiss) and “Untitled”. Both photographs were censored when first shown in Argentina in 1976, suggesting a dangerous undercurrent in their playful foreplay.

A similar sensitivity is expressed when one remodels or transforms the human body. In Untitled (1968), Italian-born Argentinian Carmelo Carrá portrays a nude figure clutching her genitals through a broken, translucent outline. A mesmerizing depiction of a demon with inflamed testicles and a penis by Colombian artist Carlos Motta “seduces more than frightens,” the curators write. In this sense, the watercolor Formas de alargar un pene (Ways to Enlarge a Penis) (2021) by Wynnie Mynerva elongates the phallus stemming from her work examining sexual notions and hierarchies.

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Tadáskia, a date there (I–VI) (2022), six drawings: dry pastel, charcoal, and spray paint on paper, approx. 12 x 16 inches (Photo Carmen Graciela Díaz/Hyperallergic)

Delicate silhouettes by Feliciano Centurión – two on the gallery walls and others on the pages of a sketchbook the viewer can peruse on an iPad, including a depiction of Odysseus and the Sirens – and watercolors reminiscent of cave paintings by La Chola Poblete, delve into Greek and Andean mythology and explore the topic of desire.

Despite the relationship between the erotic and the body, the seductive and intimate has an effect Eros rises offer visions of eroticism related to notions of the spiritual and transcendent. From beginning to end, this exhibition shows that the erotic could be closer to the cosmic than to the terrestrial in its infinite manifestations.

Wynnie Mynerva, “Formas de alargar un pene” (Ways to Enlarge a Penis) (2021), Watercolor on paper, 38 1/4 × 29 1/2 in. (© the artist)
Carlos Motta, Untitled, from the series We the enemy (2019), colored pencil and watercolor on paper, 22.9 x 30.5 cm (© the artist)
Carmelo Carrá, “Untitled” (1968), marker on paper, 8 1/2 × 6 1/2 in. (© the artist)

Eros Rising: Visions of the Erotic in Latin American Art continues through September 30 at the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) (50 East 78th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Mariano López Seoane and Bernardo Mosqueira. A panel discussion presented by the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, will be held in conjunction with the exhibition on September 29.

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