Romance is Dead! Long Live Romance!
Isabelle GraeffThu 28 Aug 2008 - Sat 04 Oct 2008
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A curiosity in the freely available virtual images of pornography found on the internet today lead Graeff to subvert their context and transpose them to the Romantic master Goya and French Rococo styles of Fragonard and Boucher.
A curiosity in the freely available virtual images of pornography found on the internet today lead Graeff to subvert their context and transpose them to the Romantic master Goya and French Rococo styles of Fragonard and Boucher.

From a myriad of titillating pornography sites where the female body is flaunted and debased in its sexuality, Graeff examines the objectification that first started with the painting of a reclining nude, at the time causing shock and outrage for its flagrant disregard for allegory or mythology in its context. La maja desnuda (The Nude Maja) by Franciso Goya painted c.1800, is here presented as a collage of pornographic forms found today, in the exact composition and outline of the original. Then it was the first depiction of pubic hair in a work of art, here it connects our present ideas of female perfection and ideology via the medium of pornography, where the desired body is often completely free from body hair - a standard in female bodily perfection rather than a display of overt morality.

No longer is it rare to see explicit views of a projected ideal fantasy, a portal into the visual and sexual imaginations is now commonplace and everyday online, and as such has desensitised and devalued shock and reaction. In her work Graeff examines our curiosity and our reaction to the female body, and how the context placed by society plays with our notions of both what is ideal and what is obscene. She renders both interchangeable.

A plethora of porn is transcribed to an intense and ornate gothic church window, the hallowed panes intermingled with rosettes of female coquettish poses with exposed genitalia. The sacred and profane born from original sin, we are reminded it was also of female instigation. These decorative forms of women represent the Mary Magdalene figure rather than the revered Holy Mother Mary - she is a sexual being, the swirling forms charm our eyes as if beautiful flowers, thrusting out their stamens. With these two worlds colliding, are we shocked by either, and will we ever be again?

In other works, detailed silhouettes of dancing troupes are corrupted with characters from the websites of Messrs suck and cum. Whilst these Fragonard-esque delicate forms dance and play, Graeff injects them with undertones more akin to his contemporary the Marquis de Sade, whose pursuit of pleasure was similarly as unrestrained as today"s licence to the pornographic. Overall retaining an air of joie de vivre, a consensual pleasure garden of adult enjoyment becomes in Graeff"s work curiously innocent and playful.


Underlying the playful nature of subverting the two genres, is a more curious examination of contemporary porn and its relation to female representation in the past. The idea of the real versus the ideal an important art historical study, Graeff here realises the combination of two seemingly worlds apart depictions of the female nude. The context of the female body, be it Romantic or pornographic, is inextricably linked to our perpetual notions that it firstly possesses a formal aesthetic beauty, but is also there for society from any age to project its notions of what is degrading or obscene and what it is to shock. In essence, Goya"s "Maya" becomes no more Romantic or ideal than the bountiful and perfect pornography of the internet. The symbiosis has never been more apparent or explicit in joining representations of the female body as objectified and for our pleasure.