An Iconoclast Who Valorizes the Erotic and Ecstatic

Karen Rosenberg, The New York Times, July 30, 2009

High priestess, matriarch, sex goddess: the self-taught American artist Dorothy Iannone has been called all these things and more. Since the early 1960s she has been making paintings, sculptures and artist’s books that advocate “ecstatic unity,” most often achieved through lovemaking. The stylized couples in her art, modeled on figures in Indian erotic paintings, Japanese woodcuts and Byzantine mosaics, flaunt their sexual and spiritual bonds. Often they represent Ms. Iannone and her lover and muse, the artist Dieter Roth. In a fascinating way, they combine apparent submission on the part of the woman and obvious self-objectification on Ms. Iannone’s part with a clear sense that this artist is firmly in control of her story. If these works were being created by a young artist today, you might call them postfeminist. But Ms. Iannone made them in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when the first wave of feminism was cresting. She painted herself having intercourse decades before Jeff Koons documented his sex life with his porn-star wife, La Cicciolina. Ms. Iannone made an artist’s book in 1967 listing all the men she had slept with a project later echoed by the Young British Artist Tracey Emin.