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Home arrow Installations arrow Theater of Love
1986-1989 Print


1 Fall in Princeton, 1986 | 2-5 Winter Erotic, National Humanities Center Research, Triangle Park, NC, 1989

I make portraits of people who are close to me. But one day, a good looking young man in the swimming pool at Chapel Hill caught my eye. Jonathan Dollimore, a British specialist of gay themes in Shakespeare’s writings, was a co-fellow at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park. In the fall of 1988 Jonathan posed for hundreds of pictures with such ease as if my camera had been a lover’s eye. Inspired by these photographs I made a series of his portraits. They were contrasted with my red self-portraits from Theater of Love in the outdoor installations.

1-2 Helmut (1986), Bois de Vincennes, 1998 | 3 Erotic Self-portrait, Château de la Petite Malmaison, 2005
4 Erotic Self-portrait, Edmonton, Canada, 2001 | 5-12 Details of Theater of Love, Bois de Vincennes, 1988

The Theater of Love installation opened in February 1987 at Mobius in Boston. After that exhibition I began to travel with my erotic sheets, searching for new outdoor locations. I often wait many hours for the sun to come out or the wind to stop to capture that moment photographically when the work looks best. In the cold light of early Canadian spring and photographed against bushes overgrowing the riverbanks in Edmonton, the erotic self-portraits appear rather desolate. But when they are installed in the lush garden of the Château de la Petite Malmaison, the same sheets seem to radiate with pleasure. Installations of Theater of Love in museums and galleries often border on the scandalous. On the other hand, outdoor installations of Theater of Love never disturb anyone. Nudes in the landscape seem to be associated either with paradise or classical garden sculpture. Passersby may even worry about the fragility of the work and suggest replicating it in plaster or marble.

1-5 Retrospective Air People, Zacheta National Gallery, Warsaw, 2003 | 6-7 Theater of Love, New York, 1986

In his review of Theater of Love in Art in America, the poet and critic Thomas Frick focused on the political dimension of the installation. Years later he wrote a poem inspired by and entitled Theater of Love:

I look at you
because you are looking at me.
Nakedness is my protection.
I am the audience for you privacy.
You are my foreign language.
My unframed life
is hanging in your breeze.
Everything visible is faster than light.

1-6 Details of Theater of Love, Zacheta National Gallery, Warsaw, 2003

Theater of Love was preceeded by The Body Book (1979) with drawings of Helmut’s body on cotton cut and glued into his mother’s old household book. The Book brings to mind that love borders on illness and art, and that Amor is a master dissector, a doctor and an artist. In Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann Claudia Chauchat gave Hans Castorp a small silver pencil and he, in love with her, presented Claudia with the X-ray of his deceased lungs. The erotic and artistic meaning of this exchange was pointed out by Jan Kott. In his essay Book of the Body, he suggests that all of my work can be interpreted in terms of “cataloguing the body.”

1 Eye, Body Book (1979) | 2 Eye in a Shell (1985), National Humanities Center, 1989 | 3 Shroud, Princeton, 1986 | 4 Seated Man, Princeton, 1986 | 5 Erotic Self-portrait (1986) installed in the Alps, 1989

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