Hard-Hitting Soft Core: Betty Tompkins at Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach

Recognition never comes too late. In Betty Tompkins' case, the timing is a bit tardy but certainly not unwelcome. For over thirty years, the New York-based artist has created paintings that peel away the taboos and discomforts that surround anatomical painting; specifically, one or more bodies in the throes of sexual pleasure or stimulation. In the 1970's, Tompkins produced visual dialogues that, at the time, belonged exclusively to men. A woman's genitals, a man's expression as his partner satisfies him, or intertwining naked bodies at the moment of orgasm were all images that were proliferated through the male gaze. Tompkins clearly took issue.

As unapologetic as ever, Tompkins presents Paintings and Works on Paper: four decades of pioneering exploration into the limits between depicting the pleasurable body and its residual effect on its spectators. Her large-scale paintings are as brazen as Gustave Courbet's iconic 'L'Origine du Monde' and confronts her audience with the same confidence as held by women of the proto-feminist movement in contemporary art such as Ana Mendieta, Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneemann, Judy Chicago and Yoko Ono. To claim ownership of one's body and its innate desires is, inarguably, the first step to complete self-appreciation. If the artist is not free to appreciate the body, then how else may we relay its precision, its beauty and its limitless complexity? The dialogue has been ceaseless since the dawn of human history. Why stop here? Why stop now?

Betty Tompkins was born in 1945 in Washington, D.C. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at the Museum of Modern Art Houston, the Juniata Museum of Art (Huntingdon, Pennsylvania) and at prominent international galleries such as Mitchell Algus Gallery (New York), Galerie Rodolphe Janssen (Brussels) and Galerie Andrea Caratsch (Zurich). Selected group exhibitions include the Centre Pompidou, Musée National D'Art Moderne (Paris), the Serpentine Gallery (London), the 2003 Biennale de Lyon, the National Jewish Museum (Washington, D.C.) and the Kunstmuseum Bern (Bern, Switzerland). Her work is held in the permanent collections of the Centre Pompidou, the Aldrich Museum, Oberlin College and the Museum of the City of New York. Tompkins works in New York and Pennsylvania.

Betty Tompkins: Paintings and Works on Paper 1972 - 2013 runs through January 25, 2014 at Gavlak Gallery, 249B Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. For more information, call (561) 833-0583 or visit www.gavlakgallery.com

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