Eroticism Beyond the Flesh

How to depict eroticism, an abstract, subjective feeling that is concomitant with something as embodied 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 spectrum of answers to that initial question, sometimes through abstraction and other times through figurative transformations of the body.

Curated by Mariano López Seoane and Bernardo Mosqueira, Eros Rising showcases 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 foreground its intangibility. “What we see in the works in this exhibition is not a representation of sexual experience as an intelligible encounter between two human bodies, but an inquiry into the depths and the complexities of erotic experience and the transformative energies it can unleash,” the curators explain in an accompanying essay.

Artur Barrio, “Erotic Composition” (1967), graphite on paper, 12 3/8 × 8 7/8 inches (© the artist, photo Arturo Sánchez)
Feliciano Centurion, Spread from Untitled (nd), graphite, ink, and paper cutout in notebook, 8 3/8 × 12 1/8 inches (© the artist, photo Arturo Sánchez)

The curators add complexity to the conversation on eroticism by including 10 intergenerational artists with their own stylistic languages, identities, and experiences. “Something that was very important to us was the clear sensation that there’s no universal, defining erotic experience. That’s why we talk about the plurality of eroticism,” Mosqueira said during an exhibition walkthrough.

Eros Rising grew from three pastel drawings by David Lamelas: “At Sunrise,” “Lluvia de estrellas,” and “On the Moon, Crash of Light” (all 2015), in which the tongue curves upward suggestively. The drawings are filled with energy, oscillating between explosions and celestial bodies to render what the curators call “cosmic eroticism.” The bottom of the gallery walls are spray painted with the same tone of hot pink as that in “On the Moon, Crash of Light,” immersing viewers in the show’s experience: we are in the realm of Eros.

The celestial and the firmament are in dialogue with the terrestrial in pieces like “Erotic Composition” (Erotic Composition) (1967) by Luso-Brazilian conceptual artist Artur Barrio, as well as a date there (I-VI) (2022), a series of six abstract drawings by Tadáskía that tell a story of three forces through the interaction of three colors — blue, pink, and yellow — that are separated 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.

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

A similar sensitivity is expressed by reframing or transforming the human body. In “Untitled” (1968), Italy-born Argentine Carmelo Carrá portrays a naked figure clutching his genitals through an interrupted, diaphanous outline. A mesmerizing depiction of a demon with inflamed testicles and a penis, by Colombian artist Carlos Motta, “seduces more than it terrifies,” as the curators write. In this vein, the watercolor “Formas de alargar un pene” (Ways to Enlarge a Penis) (2021) by Wynnie Mynerva elongates the phallus, stemming from their work examining sexual conceptions and hierarchies.

Tadaskia, 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’s walls and others on the pages of a sketchbook that viewers can peruse on an iPad, including a depiction of Ulysses and of the Sirens — and watercolors by La Chola Poblete that recall cave paintings delve into Greek and Andean mythology, respectively, and explore the theme of desire.

Despite the relationship between eroticism and the body, the seductive, intimate works in Eros Rising offer visions of the erotic that relate to notions of the spiritual and of transcendence. From beginning to end, this exhibition demonstrates that eroticism might be closer to the cosmic than to the terrestrial in its infinite manifestations.

Wynnie Mynerva, “Ways to Enlarge a Penis” (2021), watercolor on paper, 38 1/4 × 29 1/2 inches (© the artist)
Carlos Motta, “Untitled,” from the series We The Enemy (2019), colored pencil and watercolor on paper, 9 × 12 inches (© the artist)
Carmelo Carrá, “Untitled” (1968), marker on paper, 8 1/2 × 6 1/2 inches (© the artist)

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

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