The fine line between art and pornography

Story by Jack Foley

THE fine line between art and pornography is currently being explored in two new exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London which seek to reveal the increasingly complex collaborative relationship between artist and model, and recall a period when art, media, fashion and music were cross-fertilising.

Entitled ARTIST <-> MODEL, the exhibition showcases the work of photographers Richard Kern and Fergus Greer/Leigh Bowery, artists who consistently flirt with eroticism in their work and who seem fascinated by the naked female form.

Kern, in particular, has been 'operating for 20 years at the boundaries of the art world, the music scene and the sex industry without really belonging to any of them', according to Time Out, New York (on the ICA's website), while the Independent has referred to the Greer/Bowery collaboration as 'astonishing... bold, ballsy images'.

The upper galleries of the ICA have been turned over to the American, Kern, and the predominant theme running throughout his work is a fascination for the aesthetics and problematics of voyeurism and pornography.

According to the ICA, the New Yorker's 'subtly subversive and seductive photographs of young female models show them posing in a variety of domestic settings, often in the middle of daily routines such as bathing, squeezing spots or using eye-drops'.

But is it art, or merely an artistic excuse for pornography... and what type of viewer is the ICA exhibition likely to attract - the voyeur or the enthusiast... or, indeed, both?

Likewise, in the lower gallery, visitors can take in a selection of colour and black-and-white portrait photographs of performance artist and fashion designer Leigh Bowery, taken by Fergus Greer, which reflect the collaborative relationship Greer had with Bowery from 1988 until his death in 1994.

To quote from the ICA website again, 'Greer's portraits of Bowery offer a playful satirising of classical portraiture, militaristic heroism and social camouflage, while engaging with radical fashion performance and sexuality'.

Bowery was a performance artist, a model for Lucian Freud and, posthumously, an international cult figure who managed to transverse the spheres of fashion, art and performance - even though many of the images that resulted from the collaboration were surreal to say the least (an example of what to expect is pictured, below right).

According to a spokesman for the ICA, the exhibition is all about 'transgression'. The gallery describes Kern as 'as a pivotal figure' in the 'cinema of transgression'. Whether that is justification enough or not, remains to be seen. Art enthusiasts will be able to make up their mind by visiting the ICA before September 8, 2002.

And for those who cannot get enough of the current trend for eroticism, there is plenty more to look forward to in the coming months. The Barbican will be exhibiting the work of David LaChapelle in October (the man behind such genre-defining shots as Britney Spears posing in underwear in her bedroom and Pamela Anderson straddling a tree trunk), while the Proud Galleries are set to host a show of explicit nudes by the fashion photographer Rankin, to coincide with the release of his new books, Sofasosexy and Breeding.

Incidentally, anyone who wants to explore the work of Kern further, can do so by visiting his website via the link below or, by clicking here - the link takes you to Amazon, where you can buy a copy of his latest book, Model Release (a photograph from which is featured at the top of this page).

ARTIST <-> MODEL, ICA, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH. Box Office open daily: noon - 9.30pm; Tel: 020 7930 3647.

RELATED LINKS: Click here for the official ICA website...
Click here for the official Richard Kern website...
Click here to buy Richard Kern's latest book, Model Release...