This resulting prestation was, however, defiantly complex rather than simply celebratory. The works included suggested that the representation of women by other women is as fraught with the dynamics of power as the representation of women by men. If the exhibition began with Mulvey’sthe premise that ‘pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female’,it went on to draw from cultural critic Wendy Steiner to question the degree towhich the viewed object is always already identified as essentially female, andthe subject (viewer) as essentially male.
In this sense, whether the male gaze is present or not,the phallocentric mindset was everywhere in the work. Pieces such as MariaLassnig’s Girl With Wine Glass (1971) or Lisa Yuskavage’s Heart (1996–7) depict the female nude in various positions of repose, erotic pleasure and vulnerability. The works refer to a long art historical tradition and treadupon the territory traditionally prescribed by the male gaze.
As a result,although these are works that have been produced by women, the male gaze inmany ways continues to haunt the images.Other works explored the question of whether (and to what extent) the perceived object can move into a more active position. This endeavour was captured in its most literal sense in the first gallery, whichoffered a collection of photographic portraits, each of which returned to the viewer a gaze that is less easily identified as passive and is instead cagey, challenging and opaque. These works date from the early 20th century (BereniceAbbott’s Mme.
Theodorevan Rysselberghe, 1926–30) to the contemporary, such as RoniHorn’s Untitled(Isabelle Huppert) (2005).In a separate gallery, Rineke Dijkstra’s Tiergarten, Berlin, July 1 (2000)elaborated upon the notion of the resistant photographic subject. The imagedepicts a pre-adolescent girl in the natural backdrop of the Tiergarten.Essentially pre-sexual, the girl is also not yet socially subjugated; thissense of being resistant to sociological context and pressure is literallyemphasized by the backdrop of wilderness. The correlation Dijkstra formsbetween sexual and social subjugation is both subtle and convincing. Fiercelyresistant to the sexualizing gaze, the girl is – for the moment – more subjectthan object.
An equally striking Marilyn Minter photograph completedthe transformation from the object in the conventional sense – passive andsubject to the gaze of the viewer – to the object in the Lacanian sense. AsLacan formulates it in TheFour Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964), the gazebelongs not to the subject, but to the object that is perceived; these objectseffectively return the gaze to the viewer. The gaping mouth of Minter’slarge-format photograph WangechiGold 3 (2009) is a classic embodiment of this idea – the mouthlooks as much as it is looked at, and makes demands as much as it is sexualized.Whether this work could have been produced by a man seems almost irrelevant;the image subverts the traditional notion of the power relationship prescribedby the gaze, of the subject versus the object, in a manner that is neatlysevered from gender.