Dorothy Iannone: “A journey of both flesh and spirit, life and art, one inextricable from the other”

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February 21st, 2015


 (Review) You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends 


Making Muses: Dorothy Iannone’s Erotic Art Was Inspired by Dieter Roth


Originally published December 14th, 2014


It’s fitting that An Icelandic Saga opens Siglio Press’s new collection of Dorothy Iannone’s image-and-text artworks. Writing the Saga retrospectively — in 1978, 1983, and 1986 — Iannone describes her trip to Reykjavík in 1967 as the “journey which seems to have made all other journeys possible.” It was there she met the artist Dieter Roth, with whom she swiftly fell in love and for whom she left her husband and a comfortable life in the United States. But it also marks the start of another kind of journey: Iannone’s maturation as an artist and her lifelong quest to achieve ecstatic unity, or “becoming one with another” by way of erotic love.

The idea has parallels in ancient cultures, Indian and Eastern religions, and certain sects of Christianity — an early conceptual influence for Iannone was Saint Theresa, whose immortalization in marble, by Bernini, she saw in her twenties — and though Iannone also borrowed visually from these antecedents (from fertility goddesses and Tantric figurative art, for instance), her method of exploration is very much her own, a journey of both flesh and spirit, life and art, one inextricable from the other.

And in fact, a half dozen pages into her Icelandic Saga, she momentarily breaks from the tale to express her gratitude for art. “Art is the world I have created which never lets me down,” she writes, “a world to which I can return again and again and smile and be immortal.” (Was she thinking of Bernini’s sculpture at that moment?) Iannone is often smiling in her work, especially toward the end of the Saga, when she sees her new life with Dieter unfolding before her. She is also smiling in “I Was Thinking of You” (1975), which is a very different work. On the front of a large wood box covered with dense, vibrantly colored plant motifs and ornamental designs, Iannone painted a life-size man with a huge erection manually stimulating a woman’s clitoris and touching her breast. In place of the woman’s head is a small video monitor, on which Iannone’s closely cropped face appears in a loop, as she climaxes again and again.

These two works, which appeared together at the New Museum in 2010 (she was then seventy-five, and it was her first, and to date only, US museum solo show), represent two interconnected aspects of Iannone’s art: on the one hand, her memoiristic, narrative approach to art making in which her life is both subject and object of her art; on the other, her active, unfettered eroticism. There’s lots of explicit sex in her work, but it’s never intended as provocation or as an object for voyeurism (though it can be arousing). When, in “Lists (IV)” (1968), she recounts all of her lovers before Dieter, the chronicle is given rather dispassionately. Except for the subject matter, the work resembles a child’s primer.

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