What’s the big deal with breasts, ask artists at the Venice Biennale

‘Breasts’ is set to open at ACP Palazzo Franchetti for the duration of the Venice Art Biennale 2024

breasts in art: nude mannequin, part of artwork on show in ‘Breasts’ exhibition at ACP Palazzo, Venice
Marcel Duchamp, Prière de Toucher, 1947, Modified readymade: foam rubber breast on velvet mounted paper, 10 cm diameter
(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and a private collection, London)

Breasts have endlessly captivated artists – from the Old Masters to Cindy Sherman, Richard Dupont to Marcel Duchamp. Across the centuries, and through the mediums of sculpture, photography, film and painting, they have been a lens through which to dissect sexuality, illness, motherhood and politics, as well as igniting discussions on identity, class and race. They have also been fascinating, funny and fantastic, simply in their own right.

Now, a major new group exhibition in Venice asks why. Bringing together 30 established and emerging artists, curator Carolina Pasti is considering the issue at ACP Palazzo Franchetti. But where to begin?

Venice group show grapples with breasts in art

breasts in art: nude pink mannequin

Allen Jones, Cover Story, composition with leather accessories and brass support, 2021

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist. © Courtesy Galleria d'Arte Maggiore Allen Jones.)

‘Starting from a Cycladic fragment [and extending] to a Madonna lactans, my portrayal of breasts focuses mainly on post-war and contemporary artists and their approach to extremely topical issues such as feminism, breast cancer, breastfeeding, motherhood, sexuality, and the changes that have taken place over the decades throughout the world,’ says Pasti, who aims to both celebrate the iconography of breasts and raise awareness of breast cancer.

carved colourful stool with breasts set inside

Paa Joe x Charlotte Colbert, Breasts Stool, 2023, Wood, 78 x 53 x 38 cm 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist. Courtesy of the Philip and Charlotte Colbert collection, London)

Divided into five rooms, the exhibition considers the representation of breasts through time, beginning with the Old Masters, including Madonna del Latte (Madonna Breastfeeding the Child), a work that influenced Cindy Sherman as well as prompting Teniqua Clementine Crawford and Sherrie Levine to review Renaissance elements throughout their work. The exhibition moves on to the sculptural translation of breasts, with works including Marcel Duchamp’s mixed media Prière de toucher (Please Touch) and Claude Lalanne’s wearable breastplate. 

painting of baby in womb and woman's breast above

Louise Bourgeois, The Reticent Child, 2005, Lithograph in colours with embossing, on wove, 12 x 8 cm 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist. Private collection, Italy)

Robert Mapplethorpe and Irving Penn are two of the photographers imbuing a surreal narrative on breasts in the third room, alongside fashion photographers’ subversion of traditional realities, while the fourth room looks at those who deconstruct breasts. Here, Louise Bourgeois, amongst others, bring a sense of humour to the conversation around women’s bodies. In the fifth room, Laure Prouvost’s moving film, Four For See Beauties, plays out, recalling the crucial role of breasts in human life.

‘Considering breasts, as a universal theme that goes back to prehistoric times, it was a challenge to decide which periods to cover in the exhibition,’ Pasti adds. ‘But from my curatorial perspective, I predominantly examined works from modern times creating an intimate exchange between different media such as painting, sculpture, photography and video.’ 

‘Breasts’ is at the ACP Palazzo from 18 April - 24 November 2024

The Venice Art Biennale 2024 will be open to the public from 20 April to 24 November


breasts in art

Masami Teraoka, Breast on Hollywood Hills Installation Project, 1970, Coloured pencil on paper, 30 x 30 cm 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist. Courtesy of Catherine Clark Gallery, San Francisco)

photograph of woman breastfeeding children

Laure Prouvost, Four For See Beauties, 2022 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist. © Laure Prouvost; Courtesy Lisson Gallery)

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.