Solitary Pleasures

Learn to love yourself at the Slought Foundation.

By Roberta Fallon
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Apr. 6, 2010

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Bucket list: Kids by the Dufala brothers is one of several pieces available for giveaways.

Photo by Steven dufala and billy blaise dufala

The big news about “Solitary Pleasures” at the Slought Foundation isn’t the masturbation-themed art—although there’s plenty of that. The news is that two powerful works by ’70s-era feminist artists Carolee Schneemann and VALIE EXPORT create an inquiry about taboos that is well beyond the giggling stage usually reached when the subject of onanism comes up.

Schneemann’s Infinity Kisses—the Movie (2008) is a silent slideshow of photos of the artist being kissed by her cat, Vesper. The photos are blurry, close-cropped and garish, echoing the low aesthetic appeal of pornographic images. They’re also sensual—the artist, seen close-up, her mouth open and eyes closed, receives what are obviously pleasurable kisses from her pet. But beyond the erotic intent, these documentary photos—taken over a number of years—raise issues about solitary practices in general. Schneemann is dignifying what’s done in private and suggesting a human need for secret rituals and practices. No matter your opinion—is it cute to kiss your cat or is it sickening?—what’s shocking here is the thought that this solitary pleasure, and others as well, might be acceptable or even an important part of the human experience.

EXPORT’s black-and-white video, Man, Woman, Animal likewise suggests there’s something almost holy in human private practices.

The film, made with her then-partner Peter Weibel, is an almost clinical portrayal of a woman masturbating. The artist, nude, seen from the waist down, sits in a bathtub with a stream of water directed at her vagina, which she displays for the camera. The camera zooms in on the water and the private parts, and the sound of moaning in the background suggests the pleasure of the experience. The full-frontal and accurate portrayal is shocking. Yet, as in Schneemann’s piece, there’s a level of dignity suggested. There’s nothing to snicker at here.

Work by younger artists round out the show. Notable pieces include Gabriel Martinez’s photo series of heterosexual men’s feet curled up at moment of climax after masturbating. The pictures rise to the level of Schneemann and EXPORT in their intent and documentary impact, although there’s a Charlie Chaplin-esque mischief about the curled toes, too. A selection of erotic drawings by Stephen and Billy Blaise Dufala, available as giveaways, suggest how art, being itself a solitary pleasure, has always sought to actively engage the viewer.

Above the serious art, the walls are peppered with photocopies of antique porn images and quotable quotes about masturbation hand-written on torn notebook pages. The higgledy-piggledy wall ensembles are kitsch comic relief from the seriousness felt throughout the show.

Before checking out the show, do some research. It is guaranteed to improve your experience. First, read curator Kevin Richards’ essay. He discusses the demonization of solitary pleasures—especially masturbation—characterized as unhealthy addictive behavior. But really, as Freud said, “The only thing about masturbation to be ashamed of is doing it badly.” Also, listen to podcasts by Richards and Schneemann to truly understand the broader messages of this excellent show.

Through April 21. Slought Foundation, 4017 Walnut St. 215.701.4627. 

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Michael Andre said... on Apr 7, 2010 at 07:01PM

“Masturbation is supposed to be private. Carolee Schneemann and I have been friends for more than 35 years. It began when she introduced herself at an art opening in New York, and I instantly blurted out: "Carolee Schneemann! I masturbated to photographs of you just last week!" She was as gracious as I was gauche, and over the years I've edited and published various Schneemann manuscripts and photographs. Such candor is usually a bad idea. Joan Simon was the managing editor of Art in America, and A in A published an issue called The Nude. Joan was married to a fellow poet; and Joan and I once spent six hours together on the radio; and so I unselfconsciously blurted as to how I had masturbated three times looking at that issue. "Betsy! Betsy!" she yelled "Tell Betsy!" To my horror, my former editor at Art News Betsy Baker appeared from nowhere armed with an expectant smile. The cat finally thank God got my tongue.”

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2. roberta said... on Apr 8, 2010 at 09:53AM

“Michael, that is hysterical. You get a gold star for holding back with Betsy. But really, she didn't need to know and the other ladies did.”

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3. Harry and Harrietta Falloff said... on Apr 8, 2010 at 04:56PM

“Har, har, har!!!!!! Our new frenz, the far right wacko teapartee folkz, are going to laugh when they see this article and where all their tax dollars are going. They are all fired up for November and wee are joining dem because you keep riding that same merry-go-round. Some peeps never learn, duh.

lovvvvveeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ya!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! H H”

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4. Michael Andre said... on Apr 9, 2010 at 06:38AM

“What tax dollars? Harry is a political jerk-off. When not imagining the beautiful Harrietta, he probably emails Rush and Beck offering blow-jobs. It's a pity they all flunked out of high school. Algebra being so difficult, they certainly have a right to their anger.”

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5. Harry and Harrietta Falloff said... on Apr 9, 2010 at 11:53AM

“Dear Mr. Pickle Sandre,

Here are a just a few places giving tax dollars to the Sloth Foundation for instance, duh. Many more $$$$$$ supporters here

Wee luv it when you try and negate our views based on your elitist attitudes about education, sex, etc. Yippee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Cultural Fund
Austrian Government, Consulate General Cultural Affairs Section
Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia, Cultural Affairs
New York State Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities

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6. Anonymous said... on Apr 9, 2010 at 11:54AM

“Is there a link to the Richards essay and/or to the Richards and Schneemann podcasts?”

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7. roberta said... on Apr 9, 2010 at 01:01PM

“Anonymous, here's links to downloadable/listenable lectures -- richards lecture -- schneeman's lecture”

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8. Art Gallery said... on Apr 12, 2010 at 02:16AM

“Great idea! Love seeing a creative mind work and gain success!!!!!! Hope it continues to grow!


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9. Anonymous said... on May 30, 2011 at 12:21PM

“To Whom It May Concern, Vincent Romaniello writes a racist, misogynistic and homophobic “blog,” artblahg, and has been harassing Philadelphia artists for over a year now. He has posted above as "Harry and Harrietta Falloff." Most of what Vincent writes is opinion, but some is cyber harassment and some has threatened physical stalking. He has also written libelous statements. Harassment is a crime, including cyber harassment. Please note the comments he posted here are not considered threatening.

If you have been harassed or threatened by Vincent Romaniello writing under the pseudonym Harry and Harrietta (and/or other pseudonyms you suspect to be Vincent Romaniello) please contact the Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers For The Arts. They have a great deal of information on him and can help you.

(215) 790-3620

\You can read about the early problems with Vincent in this article”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jun 6, 2011 at 06:22AM

“Also agreed on anon poster on V. R. For a mostly complete synopsis on his awful cyber-bullying, check out Travesty's take on it here:”

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11. vincent said... on Jun 29, 2011 at 07:54AM


This paper is guilty of enabling internet haters to spread libelous comments. Your own policies on posting are contrary to this. You're just as guilty in this hate campaign, that has included attacking my wife and trying to blacklist me by contacting my professional contacts, as the trolls you let post these lies.

Take these offensive posts down.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:33PM

“Thanks for posting the info on VR.
It is especially helpful for those that he is victimizing.

And thanks for posting his comments as well, his response makes it even more obvious where the truth really lies.

Cyber bullying must be stopped and always need a dose of their own medicine.



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