by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 3, 2001
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- What do performer Jennifer Lopez's nipples have to do with Pablo Picasso? Give me a few minutes and I'll tell you.
The newest fashion trend for women, believe it or not, is the erect nipple. In case you weren't watching the recent Academy Award show, Lopez prominently displayed hers under a lovely silver and gray dress by Chanel.
But Lopez was just the tip (pardon) of the iceberg here. In France, on a recent trip, I noticed that store window mannequins in townsas far away from each other in character as Narbonne and Paris featured thesame thing. And, I've learned, silicone nipples (to augment both arousal and nature) are now a hot item in fashion stores.
Fashion has always required a moveable erogenous zone. Last year it was bare feet in strappy sandals; for the Japanese it used to be the nape of a Geisha's neck. Breasts are used to sell everything from trucks totoilet paper, so that's not such a big deal.
Even the nipple thing is a recycled idea - the story goes that Jean Harlow kept a bowl of ice on the sets of her movies and rubbed a cube under her satin gown just before they yelled "Action!" The problem is that we seem to approve of substitutes for sex, while the real thing (genitals, penetration) remains a hidden, shameful and forbidden thing.
Why are we so skittish? It's the 21st Century, not Puritan England. Why, outside of the cheesiest, most female-degrading, sold-in-a-dark-room porn, aren't we allowed to see images of the warmth, intimacy, fun and excitement of sex itself?
In Paris, I went to an interesting show at the Galerie National du Jeu de Paume. It was called "Picasso Erotique."
The curators had put together a collection of about 300 of Picasso's sexually-themed drawings, engravings, paintings, ceramics and sculptures; many of them had been hidden away for years.
Arranged chronologically, the very first one was a drawing of two sexually active goats, which he did when he was about 10.
The show then moved through his young adulthood in Spain and Paris, where he seemed to spend a great deal of time with prostitutes. As with most young men in Catholic countries, that was the way he learned about the anatomy of women -- lots of spread legs in this section -- and the possibilities of sex.
He drew his prostitutes with erotic kindness, and the madams as evil old crones holding large bags of money. He drew his friends having sex, and when his closest friend, Casagemas, killed himself in 1901, he painted him entering a heaven that was a huge whorehouse in the clouds. The pictures progressed through every one of Picasso's famousperiods -- Representational, Blue, Cubist, Surrealist, Abstract, you nameit. Men and women make love, minotaurs violate women and make love. There were rape scenes, stunning portraits, acrobatics, a woman menstruating, another urinating, wit, and a great deal of voyeurism.
To my mind, the most arousing drawings were done at the end of his life, in 1968, in a large series called "Raphael et la Fornarina." These line drawings of a couple having flagrant sex as old men -- often religious figures -- watch, has the powerful impact of Japanese erotic prints.
"Age forces us to stop, but one still wants to smoke," Picasso said. "It's the same thing with making love. One doesn't do it, but one still wants to."
Of course, a show like this has shock value, but it wears off early. Then it becomes a long and intimate journey through the artist's mind as he lived a very long and creative life; there must have been few thoughts and images that passed through his mind that he did not draw somewhere, and many of them were about sex.
Well, you might be saying to yourself right about now, I'd like to see this show.
Forget about it.
The closest the show will come to the United States is Montreal in June.
"This show could never be put on in the United States," said Gerard Regnier, the show's co-curator and the director of the Paris Picasso Museum, in an interview with Reuters. "The political correctness there acts as a new form of terrorism for the art world."
He mentioned New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Jesse Helms -- men who actively believe in cultural censorship -- as examples of these kinds of terrorists.
"We didn't even try to bring the show to the States," said co-curator Jean-Jacques Lebel, in an interview with Forbes.com. "Why should we waste our time and energy dealing with bureaucrats?"
The real question, however, is why people in the United States, who are already drowning in commercial sexual images, can't see Picasso's paintings. Why should bureaucrats like Giuliani and Helms, who obviously have radically different tastes from my own, be able to prevent me from seeing an interesting art exhibit in my own (free) country?
Is it to protect the children -- the usual excuse given whe ncultural conservatives try to control people's minds and actions by stamping "Forbidden" across normal desires?
Well, just how many young, impressionable children wander around unescorted in museums? The show is called "Picasso Erotique," for heaven's sake. Surely, a parent would be warned. (On the morning that I saw the show, there were quite a few teenagers -- with adults -- among the viewers.)
I mentioned this to a friend who has two children under 12. Shesaid, "Of course I would know exactly what kind of a show I was taking my children to see. I'm that kind of mom."
Still, I pointed out, she censors the videos she rents for the family.
"Yes, but it's not to censor sex itself," she said. "Watching, for example, Richard Gere make love to Julia Roberts, gives children a very idealized image. It's not real, and I don't want them to be misled."
The Picasso s= how does not idealize sex. It shows it as it trulywas to Picasso, and is f= or many of us.
"Art is not chaste," Picasso once said. "Or if it is, it is not art."=
The exhibit was an opportunity to visit the mind and spirit of agreat ar= tist as it focused on one theme throughout the creation of many ofthe most important art movements of the 20th Century. It can inspire us,it can inst= ruct us, and yes, happily, it can arouse us.
Can we see it? No. But we can see Jennifer Lopez's nipples anytime we want.
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes aboutculture, politics= , economics and travel.