Exhibition:
The Window: "Joseph Hilton: For Those Who Were Drowned (In 1979)"
Date
January 30 - February 28 1982
Description

"In this window installation, Hilton turns to folklore for the mermaid and mermen, which like the Sphinx also are a combination of human and animal forms. The fish tails are based on actual animals, for example, Japanese fighting fish, and are vividly painted. The mythological allure of the upper torso is updated and rendered here in terms of a current erotic standard-a Playboy or Playgirl centerfold (fig. 2). The creatures in the " lower depths" of the window are more fish-like (only their heads are human) and, for the artist, we assume. more instinctual. As they evolve towards the surface, the upper chest and finally the torso are displayed in pin-up poses derived directly from the "Playmate of the Month" in Playboy and its Playgirl counterpart. In this new version of the mermaid, the artist juxtaposes biological instinct with its current counterpart-the fabricated sex object. Several events and concerns of the artist came together and inspired this group portrait. One was a surprising newspaper report in Baltimore of mermaid sightings. Another impetus was an actual meeting with a real "Playmate of the Month...The woman projected a sexuality and character totally unlike what Hilton had imagined. In two versions-real and unreal-of the same woman. Hilton was confronted with the discrepancy between his media-derived perceptions and her actual presence, a dilemma which found an apt symbol in the mermaid. On a social level, Hilton realized the extent to which an individual 's sexual fantasy, and most likely sexual behavior as well, could be defined and manipulated by others. Under such conditions, the artist feels our true sexuality is usurped and our "biological instinct denied."

The artist utilizes another personal concern, his fear of drowning, to visualize the issue of controlled sexuality. Psychologically parallel to the trauma of drowning is the fear of one 's life being submerged in stronger forces. In this interpretation, the title of the window-"For Those Who Were Drowned (in 1979)"-commemorates those who have lost their potential identity to others who control them. It addresses all who are submerged in a media culture which implicitly and explicitly defines sexual roles and prescribes sexual fantasy and behavior."

Artist
Copyright
Courtesy the artist and New Museum, New York
Identifier
361