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April 24 2014

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Playboy‘s Artist Pals Are Rethinking Sexy—But Is It Porn Or Art?

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Aaron Young for PlayboyThe famous old dodge—”I read Playboy for the articles”—is getting a contemporary update. Thanks to a revamp and a prominent new hire, you can now look at Playboy for the art.

The magazine recently signed curator Neville Wakefield as its special projects director, and he’s been working on some highbrow—albeit playful—extensions. His first official venture involved commissioning three artists (Aaron Young—left, Malerie Marder, and Alex Israel) to create work presenting the 2013 Playmate of the Year, Raquel Pomplun, within the context of art. “I think it’s a reimagining of what Playboy can be,” said Wakefield, who’s working on another art-centric supplement for November.

The effort got us wondering: When is a picture art, and when is it erotica? “I think it has a lot to do with context,” offered Wakefield. “Porn has an efficacy when it comes to arousal, but [these works] are meditations on a person and a condition, so in that respect, they are art.” We put the question to the artists themselves; their original works debut exclusively here.

Aaron Young:
Aaron Young for Playboy

Playmates are “always working with their bodies,” said Aaron Young, so he covered a nude Pomplun neck-to-toe in paint and had her press her body (in one case, dragging her) across canvas for a series inspired by Yves Klein’s press paintings. “This definitely has rich and deep connections to art history,” he said. “I mean, there have been so many different kinds of nudes, why not work with the most popular nude in America?

The bottom line: Is it erotica? “If somebody has a good enough imagination, I’m sure it probably could be. But I think that expressing an idea through any medium can be sexy. I mean, I find dry conceptualism sexy, sometimes.”

Malerie Marder:
Malerie Marder for Playboy

Malerie Marder is no stranger to nudes—her photographs almost exclusively feature men and women sans clothes. But when it came to the Playboy project, Marder stressed, “I didn’t want to photograph [Pomplun] in any way that was just primarily about eroticism. I think my photographs of her are demure in comparison to Playboy‘s. But she’s very sensual, anyway, so I guess that comes across.” Marder’s works picture Pomplun sitting on a bed at the Chateau Marmont, reading. “In my photographs, you begin to forget that the people are nude.”

The bottom line: Is it erotica? “I hope people think they’re beautiful, but if someone opened up Playboy and saw these images, I think they’d send their subscription back.”

Alex Israel:
Alex Israel for Playboy

Fittingly for an artist best known for a video interview series, Alex Israel created a video portrait of Pomplum—with her clothes on. “She was wearing a lovely, fancy dress,” recalled Israel. On-screen, he asks everything from whether she’s read someone else’s diary to whether she believes in the Illuminati. “They’re questions that I think anyone could answer. They’re really meant to get at someone’s personality or character, and to capture her likeness. Just like traditional, classical portraits.”

The bottom line: Is it erotica? “Maybe if your fetish is talk shows—I don’t know. I guess what I would say is, well, shoot, I hope people get aroused by it.”

Photos: Courtesy of Aaron Young; Malerie Marder; Getty Images (Alex Israel)

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