Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Sex Objects

Art and the Dialectics of Desire

2006
Author:

Jennifer Doyle

Sex Objects

Complicates the role sex plays in art—from the scandalous to the absurd

Moving beyond debates about pornography and censorship, Jennifer Doyle shows us that sex in art is as diverse as sex in everyday life: exciting, emotional, traumatic, embarrassing, funny, even profoundly boring. Looking at such works as Andy Warhol's Factory films, “bad sex” and Tracey Emin's evocative line drawings, and Vaginal Davis's pornographic parodies of Vanessa Beecroft's performances, Sex Objects challenges simplistic readings of sexualized art.

Like a brassy fag hag crashing a gay sex party, Jennifer Doyle mixes it up here with a queer lot. Whether she's just watching or actively participating, whether turned on or bored, thinking or crying, or most likely all of these at once, Doyle shows how crucial a queer feminist perspective is to understanding the erotics of art.

Douglas Crimp, University of Rochester, author of Melancholia and Moralism

The declaration that a work of art is “about sex” is often announced to the public as a scandal after which there is nothing else to say about the work or the artist—controversy concludes a conversation when instead it should begin a new one.

Moving beyond debates about pornography and censorship, Jennifer Doyle shows us that sex in art is as diverse as sex in everyday life: exciting, ordinary, emotional, traumatic, embarrassing, funny, even profoundly boring. Sex Objects examines the reception and frequent misunderstanding of highly sexualized images, words, and performances. In chapters on the “boring parts” of Moby-Dick, the scandals that dogged the painter Thomas Eakins, the role of women in Andy Warhol's Factory films, “bad sex” and Tracey Emin's crudely evocative line drawings, and L.A. artist Vaginal Davis's pornographic parodies of Vanessa Beecroft's performances, Sex Objects challenges simplistic readings of sexualized art and instead investigates what such works can tell us about the nature of desire.

In Sex Objects, Doyle offers a creative and original exploration of how and where art and sex connect, arguing that to proclaim a piece of art “about sex” reveals surprisingly little about the work, the artist, or the spectator. Deftly interweaving anecdotal and personal writing with critical, feminist, and queer theory, she re-imagines the relationship between sex and art in order to better understand how the two meet—and why it matters.

Sex Objects

Jennifer Doyle is associate professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. She is coeditor, with Jonathan Flatley and José Esteban Muñoz, of Pop Out: Queer Warhol.

Sex Objects

Like a brassy fag hag crashing a gay sex party, Jennifer Doyle mixes it up here with a queer lot. Whether she's just watching or actively participating, whether turned on or bored, thinking or crying, or most likely all of these at once, Doyle shows how crucial a queer feminist perspective is to understanding the erotics of art.

Douglas Crimp, University of Rochester, author of Melancholia and Moralism

Doyle is a smart and incisively sassy analyst of the sexual politics that inform that broad and vaguely defined category we call art. This lack of definition—a queerness of taxonomy—is what makes Doyle’s writing here so exciting and enjoyable.

Lambda Book Report

An excellent disruption of current critical theories about how sex matters in art.

Art Monthly

A rich and complicated book. Doyle’s writing is applicable to any of us, to artists in all disciplines.

Border Crossings: A Magazine of the Arts

Doyle demonstrates a sure understanding of the latest methodology and critical possibilities of queer theory.

Midwest Book Review

Enacts an unraveling of assumptions by complicating the notions of sexuality, gender, and sex.

Signs

Shifting fluidly from visual art to literature, penetrating analysis to snarky aside, in a voice that runs the gamut from steely-eyed analyst to shameless fangirl, Sex Objects will appeal to scholars of modern and contemporary art history, literature, feminism, and gender studies for its thorough scholarship and inspired interpretations as well as for the fearless critical model Jennifer Doyle offers her colleagues across these fields.

Journal of the History of Sexuality

Sex Objects

Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface: A Promiscuous Reader

Introduction: Kusama’s Boat

1. Moby-Dick’s Boring Parts: Pornography’s Allegorical Hothouse
2. Sex, Sodomy, and Scandal: Art and Undress in the Work of Thomas Eakins
3. Tricks of the Trade: Pop Art and the Rhetoric of Prostitution
4. “I Must Be Boring Someone”: Women in Warhol’s Films
5. The Effect of Intimacy: Tracey Emin’s Bad Sex Aesthetics
6. White Sex: Vaginal Davis Does Vanessa Beecroft

Acknowledgments
Notes

Index