On 11 November, the National Museum of Fine Arts inaugurates ‘The Fatal Seduction. Erotic Imagery of the 19th Century’, curated by Laura Malosetti Costa. This exhibition is organised in collaboration with the National Library with additional prints and erotic publications from their archive.
‘The Fatal Seduction’ displays 65 works of painting and sculpture, as well as photographs and prints, in thematic groups: Eroticism, Violence and Kidnapping; Prisoners and Captives; Nudes, Voyeurism and Transgression; and The Femme Fatale as a Modern Muse. The selection includes 19th century works by European and Argentine artists (including Uruguayan Juan Manuel Blanes) and explores similarities and divergences in the taste for erotic imagery in Western culture and for Argentine collectors and the public. The exhibition moves beyond a simple presentation of ‘artworks’ in a museum setting and proposes a new, broader look. By studying other 19th century cultural manifestations and context, it is possible to uncover the wider visual imagery that gave shape to desire and explore the universal ideals and mentality to which 19th century people subscribed.
The National Museum of Fine Art is fortunate to possess a vast and exceptional collection of 19th century painting and sculpture, which, until now, has not been staged in a critical study of the erotic tradition. When the museum was founded in 1896, local collectors from the Belle Époque began to acquire and enrich the museum with European art. Many of these works are exhibited permanently in the central hall and follow the academic motif of male desire and admiration for the female body. In this context, Eduardo Schiaffino (artist, critic and first director of the MNBA) is a key protagonist of shaping Argentine taste. With his paintings of nudes, critiques in various newspapers and the constant battle for modern artists to be included the MNBA collection, Schiaffino was crucial in creating a platform for new art in Buenos Aires - with the female nude at the forefront.
Yet although much of this exhibition emerges from Europe, erotic art was given new significance in Argentina. Styles were developed within a distinctly different context of gender, race and class relations. ‘The Fatal Seduction’ invites us to think outside the museum context, about the contemporary Buenos Aires audience and emerging mass culture in the city. New 19th century mediums such as prints; luxury magazines and adverts; political cartoons; films; and of course the milonga and tango, were prominent and often considered pornographic and salacious. Yet symbols from these cultural forms influenced both the popular classes and the more typical ‘high culture’ of the elites. For example, while some works demonstrate the Argentine taste for soft and refined Oriental eroticism by French artists like William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Jules Lefebvre. We also see sharp breaks and strong gestures, for example by Eduardo Sivori, who incorporated local flavour.
For this exhibition, the National Library has joined with leading contemporary writers and academics to consider the MNBA works displayed. Thus, the showcase presents a unique critical perspective from which to explore and contextualize the power and persistence of erotic art.
The exhibition is supported by the Friends Association of the MNBA.