Critical Trilogy

a critic's millennial journey

Social Eroticism

"Social Eroticism" oil painting by Anton Kandinsky

If we view the trajectory of 20th century art as the masculine struggle to connect with the long-repressed feminine power, then it remains to the present moment to consciously incorporate these opposites. In doing so, we arrive at the icon of the 21st century, the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage.

The Sacred Marriage Rites in ancient Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) were performed as an annual fertility ritual in which the King was anointed by the High Priestess of Inanna, the love goddess, with an allegedly public rite of sexual intercourse on top of the temples.

The recent publication of the long term correspondence between Wolfgang Pauli and C.G. Jung reveals a common belief uniting these 20th century pioneers: the hieros gamos is the icon ruling the 21st century.

Yet, in order for the collective to leap into this zeitgeist, the sacred feminine must be embraced. When the film of The Da Vinci Code is released this spring, a grassroots movement to restore the “lost bride” of Christianity led by the author Margaret Starbird will enter popular mythology through celluloid. Starbird’s writings of her search inspired Dan Brown, author of the bestselling book.

There is, in fact, a parallel movement in art reflecting new and original forms for the hieros gamos. This expression is rooted in the personal, yet transcends into the universal by way of a symbolist revival acknowledging the role of the magnetic attraction of opposites on the path of self-illumination. Self-mastery transmitted into form threatens external sources of power; the numinous holism of the opposites needs no external reference (not even an art theorist!) for a completely satisfying viewer experience. Art penetrating deep into the psyche heals through the illumination of a power that is alive–the liberated feminine energy.

A bold exposition of this ideal of erotically charged self-containment is in Anton Skorubsky Kandinsky’s monumental painting Social Eroticism. The painting was begun in Crimea in 1989 at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was finished at the turn of the millennium and premiered at “Icons of the 21st Century,” a show I curated at the Lab Gallery in the Roger Smith Hotel in January 2006. The emergence of this painting was a result of the tireless efforts of Zorianna L. Altomaro, who began representing Ukrainian art at a time that her country had broken free from a long history of oppression. Her gallery is called Zorya, which means star in Ukrainian. Need we look further for a sign pointing to the return of the Goddess?

A bold exposition of this ideal of erotically charged self-containment is in Anton Skorubsky Kandinsky’s monumental painting Social Eroticism. The painting was begun in Crimea in 1989 at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was finished at the turn of the millennium and premiered at “Icons of the 21st Century,” a show I curated at the Lab Gallery in the Roger Smith Hotel in January 2006. The emergence of this painting was a result of the tireless efforts of Zorianna L. Altomaro, who began representing Ukrainian art at a time that her country had broken free from a long history of oppression. Her gallery is called Zorya, which means star in Ukrainian. Need we look further for a sign pointing to the return of the Goddess?

Rising with its nationality like a phoenix out of the ashes, Social Eroticism positions Kandinsky at the center of a new galaxy. Here we have a visual manifesto of a movement. At once mystical and erotically charged, the painting proclaims a union between religion and sex that is as old as recorded history and as new as–well, contemporary art. He pays homage to postmodernism by utilizing the style of fellow Ukrainian Kasimir Malevich to transform Soviet instruments of power into symbols of fertility; missiles floating above the outstretched hand of the woman represent sperm aimed at the Sputnik egg above the male. Suprematist lines integrate this contemporary Adam and Eve into the downward pointing triangle of the Luria Kabbalah, representing the fallen feminine. Now we witness a revisionist myth of the Garden of Eden where man and woman have followed their instruments into a descent into matter.

The degradation of the Goddess meant that the face of the sacred feminine had fallen out of the heart of creation. Social Eroticism brings her back. She is sexually regenerated by a stream of red wine (a symbol for passion) that is poured into the base of her spine, where the sleeping serpent is awakened.
Ukrainian artists are leading Eastern Europe to an exciting and fertile territory–neither east nor west but somewhere between–where the long repressed kundalini resurfaces in contemporary icons. Mikhail Zhuravel has created an extraordinary winged “Beehive” integrating human and nature. This formal breakthrough gave birth to the illuminating “Apiary” series that premiered at Zorya Fine Art in Greenwich, Connecticut last fall. The unique forms and light filled language harkens back to ancient Sumer, where solar charged honey served a role in the Sacred Marriage.

It is the shadow element of Social Eroticism that makes this painting so utterly compelling. The ruby cuffed black glove of the woman is brandishing a phallus, actually the head of a sickle pointed at a similarly naked man, whose clouded facial features cause him to fade in her orgasmic presence. Why is the climaxing female so dominant? The artist proclaims homage to Vera Mukhina, the Russian farmer/sculptor whose Soviet icon, Factory Worker and Collective Farmer, he sends up. But there is more to the story. By formally elevating the feminine power, the artist is resurrecting the fallen woman in his personal narrative; his great-grandmother was the mistress of the great modernist painter, Wassily Kandinsky. According to Skorubsky Kandinsky, his great-grandfather in blood refused to marry his great-grandmother because she was Jewish; the illegitimate child born of the union was Skorubsky Kandinsky’s grandmother.

A painting that originated as a dangerous joke ten years ago now becomes a beacon for a new movement restoring human instincts repressed by 20th century -isms. The personal demons Skorubsky Kandinsky exorcized during ten years of personal entanglement with modernism guide art into an exciting new era. It is here that the authentic pursuit of pleasure transforms the human psyche through the inner marriage of the opposites.

Social Eroticism is not only a passport but a guarantee that we will get the bi-millennial recurrence of the hieros gamos myth right this time around. How else are we to realize the ideals of equality and freedom proclaimed by the Age of Aquarius?

c. Lisa Paul Streitfeld, originally published in NY Arts Magazine, March/April 2006

"Social Eroticism" New York City premiere; "Icons of the 21st Century" at the Lab Gallery, January 2006

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Social Eroticism […]

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