Lady Gaga didn’t invent the concept of selling sex, and Madonna’s cone bra two decades before her wasn’t the first attempt at it either.
While it is certainly less obvious, Salvador Dali’s “El Gran Masturator,” a favorite and classic among fans of Spanish art, stands out even among the Velázquez and Picasso masterpieces for one clear reason – look a bit closer, and you realize this painting is just as deliciously filthy as Gaga’s newest music video.
Perhaps it’s the complexity of Dali’s tortured existence, or the fact that his style changed drastically over the years (Madonna didn’t invent reinvention, either), but nearly 80 years after its completion, The Great Masturbator still stands as one of the most intriguing examples of a surrealist autobiography. Once viewers understand the meaning and symbolism of the eerie painting, it will be enough to shock even the most liberal Washingtonian.
Completed in 1929, the painting depicts Dali’s severely conflicted feelings and attitudes toward sexuality. Think of it as a tormented journal entry and one can begin to see into the strange and wonderful psyche of Dali.
As the story goes, Dali’s father left a book of photographs of advanced stages of genitals with venereal disease open for him to see, thus beginning a long history of Dali being fascinated by putrification, impotence and masturbation. The whole painting is almost a Freudian study of the fear of sexual awakening and castration, with the grasshoppers and ants referring to a childhood fear that Dali had of being devoured.
Each piece of the complex puzzle serves to illustrate that Dali’s fears of sexual intercourse with a woman forced him to the conclusion that the purest form of sexuality is, you guessed it, masturbation.
For those who like their sex a bit more current (and a bit more local), the National Gallery of Art has an exhibit from now until September featuring photographs taken by Allen Ginsberg, the Beat Generation poet of the 1950s and 60s. Ginsberg is mostly famous for his poem Howl, which caused quite a stir in 1957 when its language was deemed “filthy, vulgar, obscene and disgusting…” by a San Francisco prosecutor, but his photographs, part of the NGA’s exhibit called “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg” are the kind of retro Americana that delights viewers with their innocence.
Finally, for the kind of art you can pack up and take home with you, check out Flaming June, the breathtaking and delicious panting by Lord Frederic Leighton. Although today prints of it can be found in galleries in Dupont Circle and online, it was almost lost forever.
The classicist painting was found discarded on a corner near an Amsterdam art gallery in 1963 by Puerto Rican politician Luis A. Ferre, who was told that it was out of style. He purchased it for his Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico, which he founded, and it has been on display at several notable galleries around the world as of late including El Prado in Madrid and the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany.
The woman in the painting is graceful, serene, lazy, feminine and beautiful, but the painting itself is simply stunning.
As DC art lovers can attest to, whether its dark, hippie-ish or beautiful, art is sexy.