empathy

Reviving “The Golden Age of Porn”

Artist Aura Rosenberg began making paintings based on images from pornographic magazines in the late 1980s. Frequenting clandestine shops on 42nd Street, she was drawn to the glossy depiction of fantasy narratives and used them in her work until the birth of her daughter. Now, after two decades of raising her daughter and working on childhood projects, Rosenberg returned to her dusty magazine collection. The explicit imagery, once considered obscene, felt picturesque. “The Golden Age of Porn” had become fossilized within the pages of faded magazine spreads. These works now hang in Martos Gallery, where they explore themes of transgression and nostalgia in an age where porn is no longer underground, but a constant, background murmur.


Celestial bodies


“I Know It When I See It” chronicles Rosenberg’s major bodies of work, covering subjects including color palettes, astrology, Freud’s giraffe and porn. Beyond the airy main gallery space and hidden in the smaller backroom of the Martos Gallery awaits the most visceral of Rosenberg’s works, “The Astrological Ways.” Life-size bodies imprinted on large black velvet panels overtakes the white walls—starry skies of celestial bodies.


Rosenberg began making body imprint paintings in late 80s, inspired by a 70s day-glo poster “The Afronomical Ways.” The latter featured fluorescent silhouettes of couples posed in sex positions corresponding with 12 astrological signs. In Rosenberg’s body print series, couples would cover their bodies with white paint, take on a pose and imprint them into large sheets of thick black velvet. Upon seeing these works exhibited in a gallery setting, many visitors responded to the corporality of the intimate gestures. Some brought themselves close to each painting, reaching up and hovering their fingertips just inches from the thick velvet cloth matted with traces of white.

 

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Gallery visitor Kedar Phillips. Photo: Steph Ziemann

 

The opening night of “I Know It When I See It” at Martos Gallery showcased a performance of Rosenberg’s body imprint paintings. After stripping off their clothing in the main gallery space, a nude man and woman moved into the smaller viewing room to make an imprint painting. Instantaneously, the narrow hall connecting the main gallery to the “The Astrological Ways” viewing room became more packed than a rush hour subway train.

 

Closely surrounding the two performers was a fence of press and visitors gripping their cameras, digitally documenting every brush stroke. The rest of the viewers stood on tiptoes, peeking behind heads and torsos. Some people held up their cell phones, using the screen to see beyond the thick crowd. Some simply left while others lost interest, standing stoically by the white walls with their eyes fixed on their cell phones and the limitless world inside the device.

 

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