Sunday, January 13, 2008


I went to the Barbican's exhibition Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now. I went primarily to see the Graeco-Roman stuff. Actually, there wasn't that much in this section that was new to me, but then I've seen this sort of thing before. And I regret the absence of the funniest Roman erotica I've seen - oil-lamps in the shape of a satyr, where you light the end of the penis.

Although I would have laid out the sleeping hermaphrodite so that it was approached from behind, making the male genitalia a surprise, the exhibition makes good use of the space available. The only thing I could complain about would be the reconstructions of the secret cabinets from Victorian museums. Not only were these dimly lit, making the labels hard to read, but in one most of the objects were described as 'undated'. Fair enough, they can't be tied down to a precise century, but they could at least have said what culture (e.g. 'Roman') they came from.

As for the rest, there were amusing bits, such as the surrealist happening organized by Jean-Jacques Lebel, which involved two models being spanked to 'La Marseillaise' (and I may never look at a leek the same again). I was interested to find a Renaissance painting of Minerva, Lavinia Fontana's Minerva in the Act of Dressing. This is the only example I can immediately think of where this particular goddess is used in an erotic image.

There were signs warning that the room you were about to enter contained images of sexual activity, which we mocked. But then I did find the Mapplethorpe photographs disturbing - not so much the photo with a bullwhip up his bottom (do not click if you are disturbed by such images), but one of a clamped and bleeding penis. I don't particularly like Jeff Koons' erotic work, most of which seems to be an excuse for him to be photographed having sex with an Italian porn star, but his work can't be excluded from an exhibition like this. And I was delighted to find that, when bored with landscapes, J.M.W. Turner would dash off some porn.

Seduced is on until January 27th.

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