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Erotic Ambiguities

Art is always ambiguous. When it involves the female body it can also be erotic. Erotic Ambiguities is a study of how contemporary women artists have reconceptualised the figure of the female nude. Helen McDonald shows how, over the past thirty years, artists have employed the idea of ambiguity to dismantle the exclusive, classical ideal enshrined in the figure of the nude, and how they have broadened the scope of the ideal to include differences of race, ethnicity, sexuality and disability as well as gender.

McDonald discusses the work of a wide range of women artists, including Barbara Kruger, Judy Chicago, Mary Duffy, Zoe Leonard, Tracey Moffatt, Pat Brassington and Sally Smart. She traces the shift in feminist art practices from the early challenge to patriarchal representations of the female nude to contemporary, 'postfeminist' practices, influenced by theories of performativity, queer theory and postcoloniality. McDonald argues that feminist efforts to develop a more positive representation of the female body need to be reconsidered, in the face of the resistant ambiguities and hybrid complexities of visual art in the late 1990s.

Product Details

Table of Contents

List of Plates; Acknowledgements; Introduction; 1. Feminism, Ambiguity and the Ideal; 2. Revisioning the Female Nude; 3. Historical Ambiguity; 4. Seeing Ambiguity; 5. Gender Ambiguity; 6. Making a Difference with Ambiguity; 7. Turning Ambiguity Around; 8. Hybrid Ambiguities Conclusion Notes Works Cited Index


About the Author

Helen McDonald is an Honorary Fellow in the School of Fine Arts, Classical Studies and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne.


McDonald (fine arts, Univ. of Melbourne) presents an academic-style volume based upon the unquestionable fact that ambiguity exists in the perception or reading of successful visual art but also adds the proposal that "art is always erotic." The venue for examining these issues is mostly feminist performance body art as seen in photography and on screen. These works are viewed through the theories of Lacanian psychoanalysis, deconstructivism, and dissertations covering the conceptual ideal of an erotically female body as seen in poststructuralist feminist criticism, notably Judith Butler's Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (LJ 12/89). Most of the illustrations document work created by women of Australia, including the Aborigine, and much of the feminist imagery in the roughly 75 plates is fairly recent or little known, making this an important offering to those looking for work produced outside the usual centers. McDonald, however, steps beyond her topic of the "degendering" of feminist body art and criticism and tarnishes the subject by writing on deregulating intergenerationalist sex (e.g., "it is possible to conceive of a society in which sexual relations between children and adults, including incest, might be permissible and even desirable for all concerned"). Not recommended.ÄMary Hamel-Schwulst, formerly with Towson Univ., MD Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

..."a dense, theory-filled volume which discusses work by--among others--comtemporary queer artists Zoe Leonard and Tracy Moffatt. "Queer Caucus for Art Newsletter October 2001."

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