Art treasures the female form, but is that only when it's confined to the canvas?
Performance artist Deborah de Robertis has been arrested for indecent exposure after lying down naked in front of Édouard Manet's Olympia in Paris' Musée d'Orsay; mimicking the pose of his famed nude portrait of a prostitute.
According to her lawyer Tewfik Bouzenoune (via The Guardian), De Robertis "was wearing a portable camera to film the public’s reaction. It was an artistic performance." Yet, the staff at the museum perhaps didn't see de Robertis' efforts in the same light, responding by phoning the police and pressing charges against her for indecent exposure.
A museum spokeswoman told AFP, "There were many people in front of the painting. Security guards responded well, they closed the room and asked her to get dressed. As she refused, the police were called and removed her."
It's important not to consider de Robertis' performance as part of an attack on Manet's work, but far more a show of solidarity with a masterpiece which first caused uproar when it was displayed in 1865. At the time, the depicted prostitute's direct stare and confrontational posture frightened and disgusted viewers; they were outraged that a naked woman, a prostitute no less, would dare to stare the viewer down with such unshakeable confidence.
De Robertis work, then, brings Olympia's confrontations to the 21st-century stage. Now that we see such nudity on the canvas as pedestrian, how do modern audiences react to such a pose and such confrontation in the flesh? Why is something rendered in paint acceptable, yet scandalous when the same enters into the real world?
This isn't the first time de Robertis has explored such issues; in May 2014, she was similarly removed from the premises by police for exposing herself in front of Gustave Courbet's similarly notorious Origin of the World; a detailed, painted close-up of a woman's genitals. The stunt formed part of a video work, Mirror Origin.
Manet's Olympia forms part of an exhibition at the gallery entitled 'Splendour and Misery: Images of Prostitution 1850-1910'.
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