A woman’s right to pleasure: the LA exhibition rewriting the history of female sexuality

Artists including Nan Goldin, Tracey Emin and Reka Nyari take part in ‘BlackBook Presents: A Woman’s Right to Pleasure’ at Sotheby’s LA

Reka Nyari, Pussy, signed and numbered 1/7, chromatic print on silver paper
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Left, Reka Nyari, Pussy, signed and numbered 1/7, chromatic print on silver paper. Executed in 2012, this work is number 1 from an edition of 7. Provenance: the artist. Right, Penny Slinger, Homage to Lawrence Durrell, painted wax life cast, in 2 parts. Executed in 1973. Provenance: the artist

A playful and provocative look at female sexuality is the focus of a Sotheby’s selling exhibition. ‘A Woman’s Right to Pleasure’, created in collaboration with BlackBook and inspired by the tome of the same name, traces female experience over the last century in a reframing of traditional narratives.

Sexuality is viewed through the lens of female artists, with works from the likes of Nan Goldin, Penny Slinger, Reka Nyari, Tracey Emin, Judy Chicago, Jenny Holzer, Marilyn Minter, Betty Tompkins, Alexandra Rubinstein and Louise Bourgeois presenting women’s sexuality through a plethora of mediums. Artworks, encompassing prints, photography, oil paintings and neon, riff on both traditional and contemporary multimedia.

Tracey Emin neon artwork, part of A Woman’s Right to Pleasure exhibition at Sotheby’s LA

Tracey Emin, Blinding, clear blue neon. Executed in 2008, this work is number 8 from an edition of 10, plus 2 artist’s proofs. Provenance: the artist

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Pieces consider both classical motifs and cheeky double entendres, from Reka Nyari’s Pussy print, which intertwines the linguistic and the sexual, to Penny Slinger’s rethinking of everyday motifs. With a slight shift in perspective, domestic objects – long symbols of women’s repression – become markers for female pleasure.

Judy Chicago celebrates the tactility of unexpected materials with Submerged/Emerged #1, which draws sensual silhouettes in acrylic spray on pressed and moulded cast paper, while Sophia Wallace’s Άδάμας (Unconquerable) is a sculptural celebration of femininity in wood, fibreglass, steel and enamel.

Earrings by Studio Renn, part of A Woman’s Right to Pleasure exhibition at Sotheby’s LA

Studio Renn, ‘Seed-Leaf’

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Jewellery is also included, with Indian brand Studio Renn presenting six pieces from the ‘Seed-Leaf’ collection, which will debut at the exhibition, representing the cyclical nature of fertility and abundance in gold and precious stones.

The book that lends its name to the exhibition was released in 2020, and featured artists’ works alongside essays from Erica Jong and Roxane Gay. There is photography by both established and emerging names, including Cindy Sherman, Marilyn Minter, Carrie Mae Weems, Harley Weir, Mickalene Thomas and Martine Gutierrez, while written contributions from Erika Lust, Stoya, Alice Little, Vaginal Davis, Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Dani Lessnau, Natasha Stagg and Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova muse on the links between pleasure and empowerment.

Lips artwork, part of A Woman’s Right to Pleasure exhibition at Sotheby’s LA

Penny Slinger, Read My Lips. Chromogenic print, executed in 1973, this work is from an edition of 3, plus 2 artist’s proofs. Provenance: the artist

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Man smoking in bed, Nan Goldin artwork, part of A Woman’s Right to Pleasure exhibition at Sotheby’s LA

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Nan Goldin, Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City. Signed, titled, dated and numbered AP4 in ink on an accompanying label cibachrome print, flush-mounted. Executed in 1983. Provenance: the artist

Flower print, Georgia O’Keefe artwork, part of A Woman’s Right to Pleasure exhibition at Sotheby’s LA

Georgia O’Keefe, Canna Series. Watercolor on paper, executed in 1918/20. Provenance:  Acquired by bequest to the present owner in 2019

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Red drawing

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Louise Bourgeois, House Struck By a Lightning Bolt. Signed with the artist’s initials; titled and variously inscribed on the reverse. Ink, graphite, whiteout and gouache on paper. Executed in 1998. Provenace: acquired by the present owner at Wright Auction, Chicago, April 27, 2010

Silver sculpture

Sophia Wallace, (Unconquerable), wood, fibreglass, steel, enamel. Executed in 2013. Provenance: the artist

(Image credit: press)


‘BlackBook Presents: A Woman’s Right to Pleasure’, 8 July – 12 August, Sotheby’s LA


Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.