Jacques Charlier is a Belgian artist who has drawn a hundred cartoons representing the sexual organs of modern and contemporary artists. Doesn't sound all that shocking, but when they were to be hung in Venice’s streets for the Biennale last June, both the Mayor of the town and the exhibition’s bosses refusedbecause of the so-called “limits of decency.” Which is weird, because most of these things aren't actually dicks or pussies. He paid no mind, exposed his drawings on a boat in Venice and in other European towns, and is now offering a quiz on his website with a prize for whomever can identify the greatest number of famous genitalia.
Jacques Charlier: It’s an old idea dating back to the 70s. At that time I had only made about 15 drawings, and when I was approached for an “off” participation at the Biennale, I thought I had still a lot of them in my studio. We chose a hundred with Enrico Lunghi [the curator].
When we see 100 representations of wangs and twats in a row, we can’t help but wonder if the artist has a problem with sex…
But that’s not the only thing I’ve done in my life! Given that the sex is more and more present in contemporary art, it was a way to push the logic to the extreme. No risky interpretation possible.
Why these hundred artists and not others?
It’s just that some are more “cartoonable” than others. Apart from that, they are classified by age, from the oldest to the youngest. Even with hints on every picture, we realize that the game is not that easy and that you need a strong knowledge in art history to guess whose artists the sexes belong to.
To expose them is a kind of tribute?
Of course. It’s full of affection, I’m not a pervert who’s trying to roast modern art, contrary to what might have been said about me. It’s simply the world of art pictured in its bareness.
Are you included in the hundred?
Yes. It has its own characteristics, even if it’s harder to guess which one it is, compared to some others.
On your website, you said that you’ve asked the artists who’re still alive if they cared about having their private parts publicly exposed…
Most of them didn’t give a damn, others thought it was funny, only two or three were reluctant. Some did not answer at all, but when I saw them they said they did not understand this whole story of censorship. Generally speaking, we’ve been amazed by how much people were nice to us. Nine cities invited us in three weeks’ time.
Your work was displayed at VICE Bulgaria's party in Sofia (which is where these photos came from). Did you know that before our interview?
No, but I remember they had been cool and they had told me before hanging my drawings. But you know, it’s not really a coincidence. There’s a sort of dullness surrounding the Biennale so that every time there’s a new thing in town, people are instantly aware of it by word of mouth. I was already talked about before arriving in Venice!
Why do you think Venice refuse to exhibit your drawings? The cliché says Italians are pretty keen on sex.
This type of decision is never a single person’s decision. It’s mostly the curator who’s been in touch with people from the city and the Biennale, not me. The artistic world is currently really not great. As much as some national pavilions were punchy, like the Hungarian one, others were totally irrelevant. The art critics and the media don’t have the time, they don’t have the cash to cover the “off” events, they are radio-controlled since the beginning. The Biennale is a dinosaur you can’t manage or exploit, it’s a touristic and commercial tool now…. As far as Venice is concerned, I think it’s hypocritical to turn down my proposition because of “decency.” It was Casanova’s home; there were floating brothels not so long ago. Half-topless Yoko Ono posters did not make anyone turn a hair. I think it’s the title “100 Sexes” that scared them.
What’s your next project? Other body parts?
My new works have nothing to do with sex, I’m not an expert! I entirely re-arranged a waiting room of the French Community Parliament in Brussels, in which I introduce my vision of the world. I’m also the curator of an event where artists I’ve chosen will wander in 16 cities to show the gap between art and the average Joe, with an underlying political critic.
Hm, OK, guess you’re not a perv after all.