Deborah de Robertis: performance artist or nude exhibitionist?

Deborah de Robertis performing Mirror of Origin (2014)

Deborah de Robertis performing Mirror of Origin (2014) – Photo: Video still via DailyMotion.

On May 29 the Luxembourgian performance artist Deborah de Robertis visited Paris’s Musée d’Orsay, sat down in front of Gustave Courbet’s infamous 1866 painting L’Origine du monde (Origin of the World), and recreated the iconic image in the flesh. In a video of the piece, titled Mirror of Origin, the artist can be seen dressed in a gold sequin dress, exposing her vagina while the museum’s security guards crowding around her and usher cheering visitors out of the gallery. The artist was eventually taken away by police. The museum and two of its guards have filed sexual exhibitionism complaints against the artist.

“If you ignore the context, you could construe this performance as an act of exhibitionism, but what I did was not an impulsive act,” De Robertis told Luxemburger Wort. “There is a gap in art history, the absent point of view of the object of the gaze. In his realist painting, the painter shows the open legs, but the vagina remains closed. He does not reveal the hole, that is to say, the eye. I am not showing my vagina, but I am revealing what we do not see in the painting, the eye of the vagina, the black hole, this concealed eye, this chasm, which, beyond the flesh, refers to infinity, to the origin of the origin.”

Artist Enacts Origin of the World at Musée d’Orsay

This act has raised a lot of questions about the nature of performance art and where the line is drawn. I have seen the video of this performance, I have read her comments on the subject. and while I am all for further acceptance of the nude, and I happen to love Courbet’s Origin of the World. it’s a brilliant example of how a nude can be in your face without being sexual. it shows everything that should be considered pornographic without stepping over the line. it’s sensitive and evocative and creates a real sense of wonder. but this is not about my analysis of Courbet is about my analysis of Robertis.

I do not believe this performance was art. If there is a sliding scale of exhibitionism and art then I believe this is further towards the exhibitionism side. these are my reasons – they may surprise you:

  1. She did not secure permission or even inform the museum. while impromptu performance art is very popular, when it is in a space like a gallery then they need to be notified. that way you don’t come across as a random person exposing yourself to a crowd.
  2. She did not mimic the pose in the painting. I realize she wanted to show her “eye” but it would have been more effective as an art piece and less as an exhibitionism piece had she mimicked the pose more closely. the similarity and contrast would have been more striking.
  3. The main reason I believe this was more for her than the patrons. she remained mostly dressed. she didn’t fully disrobe, just lifted her skirt. there is a world of difference between being semi nude and being completely nude and that difference is usually in a sexual context; the semi clad exotic dancer, the flasher in a trench coat. Her sequined dress was more evocative of a stripper than of a serious artist and while she maintained majority coverage I don’t believe it was a good homage to one of the most controversial nudes in history.

In other words, I believe, go whole hawg or go home. I am not against her concept, I am not against her somewhat waffly writing on the subject, I am purely against the execution of the work which I believe brought nothing new to the understanding of Courbet or to nude artwork in general.

What do you think? is flashing your vagina in a museum art? (View the video here -NSFW)

5 thoughts on “Deborah de Robertis: performance artist or nude exhibitionist?

  1. While she didn’t much mimic the original piece, it seems to me the intent was clear. Seems to be an artist of a sort, why not?

    Sometimes the question ‘is it art’ doesn’t apply, because art is a broad term and should cover many things. However, ‘is it *good* art’ is a fair question that should be discussed.

    There is also the question of shock value. To me, doing something just for the sake of shock value without further meaning is bad art.

    Being that this exhibition (pun) was in France, it’s not that shocking. So I still conclude it was a noble artistic intent.

    • Really interesting take Ray! You’re right, context and location makes a difference. And art vs good art is an important differentiation.
      I maintain that the work would have been better with complete nudity and with the support of the museum. She could have made it a surprise for everyone else but without the cooperation of the museum it loses validity.

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