Just opened in London is an exhibition that the National Gallery hopes will move it into the contemporary: clever strategy or just whoring itself out?
Courtesy of American artists Ed (who passed out in 1994) and Nancy Kienholz, the iconic red-light district of Amsterdam has been fully recreated inside the famous London museum: the window displays, the seedy red neon, the infamous working girls… Contemporary art (the piece was produced in the 80’s) is full of shocking pieces, but for the National Gallery, a respectable, somewhat academic space, to be getting it on the steamy action has come as a surprise to many.
The museum defended itself by pointing out how the controversial theme has been a recurring one throughout art history, from 17th century Flemish painters (have a look for Godfried Schalcken's A Man Offering Gold and Coins to a Girl) to 19th century French Realists (Courbet’s Les Demoiselles au bord de la Seine comes to mind); the business of sex is no novelty in the art world, it is the form and level of interaction between the structure and the viewer that makes a real impact. As its spokesperson told to the Guardian, “We're full of prostitution. […] But because our paintings are shown in gold frames they look safe and pretty.”
The Hoerengracht (literally “Whores’ Canal”… oh the poetry!) isn’t a mere isolated act of provocation since the brothel theme has had quite a recurring place in Kienholz’s career, causing him to be dubbed by some as somewhat of a “Bordello artist”. Previous installation Roxy’s is a journey into the seedy world of the Midwestern brothels that have fascinated the artist from a young age.
Five-Dollar Billy, part of the Roxy's installation
Always wanted to see the pretty ladies in the window but can’t face the sleazy masses of the real-life red-light district? Join the connoisseurs at the National Gallery on a titilliating art journey.
Photo credits: Ed and Nancy Kienholz