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Radical Eroticism

Women, Art, and Sex in the 1960s

Rachel Middleman


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In the 1960s, the fascination with erotic art generated a wave of exhibitions and critical discussion on sexual freedom, visual pleasure, and the nude in contemporary art. Radical Eroticism examines the importance of women’s contributions in fundamentally reconfiguring representations of sexuality across several areas of advanced art—performance, pop, postminimalism, and beyond. This study shows that erotic art made by women was integral to the profound changes that took place in American art during the sixties, from the crumbling of modernist aesthetics and the expanding field of art practice to the emergence of the feminist art movement. Artists Carolee Schneemann, Martha Edelheit, Marjorie Strider, Hannah Wilke, and Anita Steckel created works that exemplify these innovative approaches to the erotic, exploring female sexual subjectivities and destabilizing assumptions about gender. Rachel Middleman reveals these artists’ radical interventions in both aesthetic conventions and social norms.

Praise For Radical Eroticism: Women, Art, and Sex in the 1960s

"Rather than calling for a new aesthetic category of “the erotic,” Middleman’s study identifies the use of diverse erotic aesthetics in art produced by women as a means of political action. In so doing, Radical Eroticism amounts to a political act in its own right."

“…Middleman provides an insightful examination of the exhibition and critical reception of erotic art, laying the groundwork for understanding the social context and political stakes of the approaches of women artists to eroticism in a decade of expanding forms of artistic practice, the demise of modernist aesthetics, and the rise of the feminist art movement.”
— Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art

University of California Press, 9780520294585, 280pp.

Publication Date: January 5, 2018

About the Author

Rachel Middleman is Assistant Professor of Art History at California State University, Chico.