A collection of some of my favorite art pieces and my thoughts on them. Expect this page to be periodically updated!
Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter
Robert Mapplethorpe, 1979
This piece is one of the first of Robert Mapplethorpe's that I fell in love with. To me, it is one of the most beautiful depictions of a dominant/submissive dynamic. I've written multiple papers about this work, talking about how the framing makes the two figures seem equal in power even during a power play. It's a representation of the ideal in BDSM, where both figures participate in a constant push and pull against each other where neither is truly holding the full power in the situation.
Eat Me Damien
Yishay Garbasz, 2011
Yishay Garbasz is an Israeli trans woman and multi-disciplinary artist. Her work often covers the concepts of identity and trauma, particularly generational trauma. This work features the artist's testicles floating in formaldehyde. The title is a poke at artist Damien Hirst, whose work 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' featured a tiger shark floating in formaldehyde. In the artists' own words: "There is an innate machismo embedded in various interpretations of this work, such as that the Shark represents a predatory tactic employed in business, or that the shark represents a similar tactic often unleashed in the art world. That male centric and predatory point of view is replaced by a highly personal, humorous and indeed irreplaceable feature in “Eat Me Damien”. I challenge the embodiment of power and playing with the meaning of consumption – who is consuming whom?" (Source)
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1560
While I love this work of art for the actual aspects of the painting as well (the first time that you notice Icarus' body, legs flailing as he drowns, is memorable), this art has inspired several poems, one of which is my favorite poem of all time. Icarus is a figure that I've thought a lot about in creative contexts and in my own personal life. Was Icarus' fall truly hubris? Or was he, like all of us, motivated by a desire to be free knowing full well the consequences?
About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters: how well they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Musée des Beaux Arts, W.H. Auden, 1940
Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman
Dara Birnbaum, 1978
Dara Birnbaum's piece Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman is a psychadelic and gripping work of video art that focuses on the transformation sequences in the 1970's Wonder Woman TV series. Speaking about the work, Birnbaum states that “Where am I between the two?” Birnbaum has asked. “I’m a secretary, I’m a Wonder Woman, and there’s nothing in-between. And the in-between is the reality we need to live in" (Source). Wonder Woman's transformation is used to depict the roles that women are expected to play: Hero, damsel, sexual object.
Looking for Langston
Isaac Julien, 1989
A dreamlike film that explores black gay identity and a meditation on Langston Hughes. Interspersed through the film are performances of poems by artists such as Essex Hemphill and James Baldwin. Langston Hughes is not a figure in the story as much as a vehicle for the artists and characters within the work to explore their identity in historical contexts as well as how that history echoes throughout their lives in the present. The film is hard to find, but if you do manage to find it, it's worth a watch.