For PomoGaze, a festival on Queer culture organised by Leeds Art Gallery, the Community Curator asked me and another volunteer (a brilliant blogger) to queer some artworks. These Queer Tours aimed to promote queering and to let people express their feelings/visions of an artwork. I chose The Veiled Venus by Kuehne Beveridge and Ella von Wrede (1901).
I have always been interested by this sculpture because it depicts a naked woman trying to unveil herself in an erotic position. In this statement I spot three queer aspects: the importance of the body, the erotism and the self-determination.
Her body isn't in a comfortable position, Nina Kane from Cast-Off Drama tried to reproduce the position of Venus during one of her performances and told me how difficult it was to hold the position. So, her body is unnatural and torn, for me this position expresses women's place in society, pretty to look at but not natural, like being forced to fit (really commun feeling for queer people). But her body is rebellious, she doesn't stay in the frame, her feet and hair are coming out of the plinth. By unveiling herself, she expands her capacity and her body. What is interesting is how she is expanding, not just by standing for herself but by pulling some sort of veil out of her face.
This action has a really strong sexual connotation. She seems in extase, she seems to have pleasure, either in the submission like in BDSM or by taking advantage of the gaze. This idea is really present in a lot of queer interpretations, with an ode to transgressive sexual pleasure. She enjoys being watched unveiling herself, she is a character of (self) pleasure not a simple representation of a divinity.
Obviously, someone could argue that it is not a woman depicted but a divinity: Venus. But it seems for me to be a way of misleading the viewer and to stay in the limit of bienséance accepted at the beginning of the 20th century especially for women artists. Playing with the limits of an artistic genre is a really queer thing for me.
The next point is about the sculptors themselves. First, it is a collaborative work between two woman, but more than that it is about a mother and daughter. Kuehne is Ella's daughter, Ella herself was an artist and lived a bohemian life in Germany after the death of her first husband. Furthermore, the model of the sculpture is supposed to be Kuehne's sister who posed. This collaborative work between women is quite unusual and tends to favour a feminist approach to the artwork. In my mind, The Veiled Venus is a manifesto for women in arts, women have to unveil themselves and reveal who they are, creature of emotions and pleasure. You could argue for a feminist reading of the sculpture.
Kuehne's other famous sculpture is a group of men called The Vampires in which she denounced how men use women for their pleasure without understanding them. Her artworks received good critics and The Veiled Venus received a medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1901, exhibited in the American department.
There would be more to say about this artwork, and if you want to share your own interpretation please feel free to comment!