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C O U R S E 
Sexing the Canvas: Art and Gender
Jeanette Hoorn, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Restaging the Nude: Matisse's Dance
Notes taken on June 11, 2018 by Edward Tanguay
The Dance (1909)
one of Matisse's most celebrated and controversial paintings
a daring foray into avant garde experiment
challenged the principles upon with academic painting was based
emerged from Matisse's informal academy established in 1908
invited students to experiment
to push the potential of line and color into uncharted territory
he evacuated his bodies of the erotic qualities that usually accompany the nude
resulted in a spectacular disfiguring of the female body
was seen by many as an assault on the eye
threw to waste the ideals of the nude
Matisse's Blue Nude
a disturbingly twisted naked body
was seen to be more offensive than Manet's Olympia
female form in which the naturalism is heightened
naked bodies in The Dance are for most viewers not erotic
and they are unrewarding
like watching a stone drop into water
your eye follows the expanding circles and it takes a deliberate, almost perverse effort of will, to keep focusing on the point of first impact
originally intended to paint on commission for the Russian art patron Sergei Shchukin
appeared to contemporary viewers as a fragment of a work of art rather than a worked out picture
a bold experiment of line and color of five women dancing in an open space
garnered negative criticism
the flattened-out picture is plain
the abstracted female bodies and large expanses of bright primary color, unrewarding
gender theorists have proposed that the regimes of looking in visual culture privilege a male viewer who exercises an active gaze towards female subjects who, occupying a passive position, produce pleasure through reinforcing masculine power in narratives that celebrate male agency
works such as Matisse's The Dance threaten to upset those regimes of looking
five naked female bodies move in a circular formation pulling each other through a dynamic movement that is pleasing to view, along with the harmony that the rhythm of these bodies in space create
but there is no sexual pleasure here for spectators
the women's bodies have been evacuated of erotic content
the expectations in viewing a female nude immediately demand particular viewing codes, which are frustrated by Matisse's sparse evocation of movement in space
the subject of the painting has more to do with the color harmonies created by use of pigment and economical line
the pale pink bodies reminiscent of attic pot figures
the bold green of the space upon which the figures are located and the brilliant blue of the sky, combining into an explosion of color which forges a new harmonic regime
all the pleasure in the work is reserved for the women themselves, who through their dance, have taken over the agency usually accorded to the viewers of the nude in a selfish act of refusal
the dancers do not address the spectator, and indeed, they are not even remotely concerned about us
there is no agency for us, the spectators
we merely witness the spectacle
the potential for fantasy is limited
the dancers do not address the spectator
they don't rely upon the conventions of the academy for their authority
they establish their own way of being isolated in their pleasure