The objectification of women as sexual objects is a subject that has generated a fair few hundred miles of column inches over the centuries. Nothing seems more calculated then, to raise the hackles of feminists, than the Royal Academy’s recently opened retrospective by 60’s artist Allen Jones. Jones took the objectification of women to a whole new level by portraying them as pieces of domestic furniture with distinctly erotic overtones.
Now, you can come up with all the arty-farty rationales you like (and Jones did, describing himself, without a hint of irony, as a ‘feminist’), but when you get down to ground zero, these artworks are a blatant appeal to the most basic sexual desire lurking at the heart of every man’s DNA. Men don’t buy The Sun for the quality of its journalism. I would bet that for every visitor to the Royal Academy admiring Jones’ sculptures for their conceptual import, there will be a hundred voyeurs enjoying a sexual thrill.
Controversy has always stalked erotic art. Manet’s Olympia – a full frontal painting of a naked prostitute reclining on a chaise longue – caused an uproar when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1865. But that was tame compared to Courbet’s The Origin of the World, exhibited the following year. Courbet’s close-up portrait of the genitals of a reclining woman with her legs spread wide would raise eyebrows even today. So perhaps we shouldn’t view the Allen Jones retrospective through the lens of our politically-correct modern zeitgeist, but as part of a much older and venerable tradition. Jones was after all painting in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ when political correctness hadn’t yet been invented.
While we’re on the subject, it can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that one particular lady’s appendages have loomed larger than most over the past fortnight. To feminists’ chagrin the world over, there’s hardly been a web page without a picture of Kim Kardashian’s prominent figure begging men to click and explore.
In her now famous attempt to ‘Break the Internet’, Kardashian recently appeared on the cover of Paper magazine balancing a glass of champagne on her shelf-like butt. A few days later she was photographed in probably the tightest plastic dress this side of Mars Attacks, as she stepped out to promote her new fragrance at the Spice Market in Melbourne. Of course, we all know the thing that Kardashian was really promoting was herself. Or to put it more accurately, the figure on which her fame and fortune has been built.
Writing for Time magazine, pop-culture junkie Brian Moylan described Kim’s butt as an ‘empty promise’. At the end of the day, he argues, she’s just a walking backside. A fairly handsome one, true, depending on your persuasion, but just a pair of buttocks. Which makes the frenzy she is able to create just by flaunting it in our faces worthy of comment. Men, it seems, are just prisoners of our DNA. We can’t help ourselves. “We fall for the trap every damn time.”
Kardashian’s rear has been provoking a mixed response in the media. The New York Times, in a column entitled “Fear of Kim Kardashian’s Derriere,” joked that it had gone more viral than the ice-bucket challenge, raising the terrifying spectre of copycat asses spreading like a virus as impressionable women lined up outside cosmetic surgeons to pick their ass from a brochure. “I’ll have the Kim.” It conjured up dystopian visions of pedestrians being barged off futuristic sidewalks by big-butted behemoths, under the wheels of passing juggernauts. Maybe we’ll need special ‘Butt lanes’ painting on our pavements soon.
Vanity Fair meanwhile, reported how one enterprising company which produced prep materials for schoolkids studying maths, incorporated questions about Kim’s perfectly rotund rear end into a geometry-related test paper. Way to go.
Kim’s ass apparently even spawned a new word, the ‘belfie’, when she took a picture of it in a mirror on her cell phone, and nearly took down Twitter in the process. Rumour has it she’s going to have an artistic mould made of it, as a gift to her man, luckiest dude on the planet Kayne West.
Coming full circle, can I leave you to ponder this troubling thought? That Kim Kardashian’s ass may be the 21st Century equivalent of a work of modern art. That was a question also floated by BBC art critic Will Gompertz in his blog. When you compare the image of Kim balancing a flute of bubbly on her booty to Allen Jones’ ‘Table’ of 1969, the notion isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Maybe, like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, Kim Kardashian is really an artistic genius. She knows exactly what she’s doing. Men are her audience, and she knows how to work us. We should know better but we can’t help ourselves. Perhaps I should leave almost the last word to Moylan:
“Kim Kardashian’s butt is the biological equivalent of click-bait. We can’t help but pay attention to it, but we’re always upset by the lack of substance. We want there to be something more, some reason or context, some great explanation that tells us what it is like to live in this very day and age, but there is not. Kim Kardashian’s ass is nothing but an empty promise.” I’ll drink to that.
In fact, to honour Kim’s awesome ass, I wrote this poem, called ‘Does my bum look big enough in this?’ Hope you like it.by