THE FEMALE form has for years been the pinnacle of human beauty, represented and cherished in every culture. Why, now, do we want it to cover up? Where do we draw the line between beautiful and explicit?
“Back It Up,” Tatiana von Tauber’s long-awaited reply to her 2015 exhibition “Art Porn,” runs June 3-4 at her studio, upstairs at 1319 Bull Street. Eight paintings show women in differing sexual positions.
Von Tauber was inspired by John Currin, an American painter who painted sexually explicit scenes in a tasteful way.
“He did this collection on Danish porn,” von Tauber says. “Huge, huge paintings in a museum, and they weren’t really attractive paintings, but I thought, ‘Damn, I’m surprised a guy of this caliber made, what I thought, a brave move.’ And I thought, why can’t I do that?”
So von Tauber bought a canvas, found a pornographic photo, cropped it, and painted it. “By the time I was done I was like, I love this,” she recalls.
The paintings in von Tauber’s show are beautifully done and are not exploitative—they just show people in the midst of sex, which pushes the art into outrage territory experienced when she showed “Art Porn” at Oglethorpe Gallery two years ago.
“I was allowed to put the vinyl signs on the windows at Oglethorpe Gallery, but the next morning I get a call saying I have to take it down because it’s too big,” recalls von Tauber.
Though the sign ended up being about an inch bigger than expected, the real issue was with the word “porn” on the sign. Members of the Homeowners Association were uncomfortable with the word being displayed so prominently.
“So, I had a First Amendment attorney contact them, and they let me show it,” grins von Tauber.
Even though she won the battle with “Art Porn,” von Tauber knew she wouldn’t win the war. She didn’t even shop her art around to galleries, choosing instead to show the work in her studio.
“I knew that no gallery in Savannah would show me, so there was no point in going further than that,” recalls von Tauber. “Unless I have some major connections, it ain’t happening. It’s not about selling, it’s not about money, it’s about being an artist and making the point.”
Von Tauber’s point has always been that sex, and consequently, is nothing to be ashamed of.
“I think [porn] reminds us of what we are, which is animals, which is sexual,” she ponders.
“The world revolves around it, even though we pretend it doesn’t, and everything—from this coffeehouse to your job to my art—it’s all just a reason to make life worthy or meaningful in some way for ourselves, because biologically, the only thing we need to do is reproduce. Isn’t it odd that that’s what creates life? I just don’t think that life or God or nature or whatever you believe in would use [sex] as the mechanism and then have it be shameful. It’s the most vital purpose we have.” She suddenly jerks back—“See, I’m getting goosebumps.”
She also recognizes that porn can be jarring when you aren’t expecting to see it.
“When you’re in it, it’s a completely different experience, so if you’re not aware and you’re not aroused, and you look at it, it’s like, ‘Blegh!’” she laughs.
“It was an overwhelming experience [finding porn for the show]. After a while I sort of desensitized and started looking at it differently, and I realized you really have to find the beauty in it, find that moment where while it’s sexual, it’s also approachable.”
Of course, there’s the complicated relationship of advocacy and censorship. When von Tauber sent me her press release, she didn’t include any images—I viewed all the work on her phone during our interview, and finding publishable art was a challenge that von Tauber was prepared for.
“It’s hypocritical to what we’re trying to do, but then it’s trying to be respectful, too,” von Tauber notes. “It’s that questionable line of, ‘How far are we going?’”
It’s not easy finding that line, but von Tauber walks it with grace and a healthy dose of self-awareness. Her toned-down approach to her show—with a less controversial name of “Back It Up” and a note that the show is only suitable for those 18 and up—proves that she knows what she’s doing as an artist.
Besides, whether people here like the show or not, “Back It Up” is headed to the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas, where von Tauber is the featured artist, for a two-month stint.