The Sexual Gesture

About a year ago Laura Owens was interviewed in Arforum, and she said some interesting things about sex and painting. I meant to comment, and can’t believe it was that long ago.

“I had asked myself, in a depressed mood: is it even possible for a woman artist to be the one who marks? At the same time, in 2013, does anyone at all have this ability, or is it an antiquated and sentimental idea? Isn’t it interesting that a male orgasm has a DNA imprint that will replicate itself over and over again, reinforcing itself the way language or naming might, but the female orgasm has no use, no mark, no locatability? It can’t even be located in time. There’s no moment when ejaculate comes out, really. I want to think about how that can be the model for a new gesture. What is that gesture in art, or in painting? The DNA replicant reminds me of the signature, like Picasso’s signature on the painting being comparable to sperm. That sounds really gendered, but it’s not – I’m specifically locating production that’s telegraphing itself, which feels very old-fashioned.”

My first thought is that the sperm is not the orgasm. Orgasm as the artistic gesture is the right direction, I believe, and it’s worth following, but the sperm and the egg, which have equal amounts of DNA for replication, are what they are, and independent from the orgasm. Maybe her depression is clouding her thinking, which happens. Just in passing I have to say that I don’t understand this kind of female inferiority complex vis-a-vis male sexuality. In my mythology (maybe I should post it on the blog), men were an invention of the female sex, a bit different from what it says in the bible. This power imbalance between the sexes is what feels old-fashioned to me. In any case, as a true artist, Owens is fixated on the visible, on appearances, so she gives overmuch weight to the apparition of ejaculate. But in normative sex, you can’t see it and it leaves no visible mark. An ejaculation as something to watch or mark with belongs to our digital era, the age of masturbation.

Marcel Duchamp, Paysage fautif 1946

Marcel Duchamp, Paysage fautif 1946

And that brings us back to art. If you can see the mark, it’s guaranteed that conception will not occur. Only conceptual art.




Duchamp’s little “painting,” which anticipates certain kinds of abstraction, is made of semen on celluloid, a special insert into the copy of the Boite en Valise that he gave to his lover, the artist Maria Martins.

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