Citizenship, the Body, and the Ethics of Exposure

From our sister publication, Art Practical, today we bring you Michelle Weidman’s piece from “Issue 8.1: Art + Citizenship.” Weidman excavates the ethics of exposure, and the violation and consumption of black bodies, brown bodies, women’s bodies. She asserts, “We live in a society that relishes exposure—see nude photo leaks; the Kardashians; interest in diaries and private correspondence cloaked with the pretense of literary or political interest—and that does not value privacy equally for all.” This article was originally published November 10, 2016.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991; Candies individually wrapped in multicolored cellophane, endless supply; Overall dimensions vary; Installation view: More Love: Art, Politics and Sharing Since the 1990s. Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 1 Feb. - 31 Mar. 2013. Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991; candies individually wrapped in multicolored cellophane, endless supply; overall dimensions vary; installation view: More Love: Art, Politics and Sharing Since the 1990s. Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Feb. 1 – March 31, 2013. Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.

I. The ethics of exposure: our virgins and our whores

In May 2016, Chloe Sevigny shared an Instagram post of herself at the Met Breuer picking out a piece of cellophane-wrapped candy from Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) (1991), which is often understood as a representation of his lover’s body weight before his eventual death from AIDS-related illness. In all installments of this work, audience members are allowed to take a piece of candy diminishing the weight in the process. The post has 11,600 likes.

Sevigny occupies a unique place both on the fringe and at the center of American fame, and is for that reason an interesting representation of societal (double) standards of beauty, exposure, and self-possession. The story of her rise to stardom is the quintessential virginal origin story: She was merely walking down the street when she was discovered and thrust into the limelight. She never searched for fame; it found her, uncontaminated by aspiration. She was first labeled an “it girl” in a 1994 article in the New Yorker by Jay Mclnerney. The piece spends a lengthy paragraph breaking down her physical imperfections, ending with astonishment that people still can’t get enough of her.

Read the full article here.

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