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Cindy Sherman offers, instead of her romantic self-portraits celebrating the infinite play of female mutability, a muscle-bound plastic man-doll covered with hair. The great Alice Neel has a painting of a blue-jeaned hippie, probably because the gallery couldn't get her brilliant portrait of the fantasist Joe Gould with three penises—even I find that one funny. I track her down on the internet and learn that she first came to public attention when she was just 24—and still a student at the San Francisco Art Institute—for paintings about suffering from scoliosis as a teenager.
And then I see it: a giant erection lovingly encased in a fist and painted in luscious expressionist sweeps of red and white paint. There are no other colors, just black and white turned red and white by minimalism and lust, which suddenly seem like a perfect match. "I needed to know what was wrong with me," she explained at the time.
She'd had two major spinal surgeries over a six-year period, with long recoveries where she got to gaze out the window and dream.
After art school, she spent a year in Italy making sculptures in glass and copying classical paintings, then moved to New York and landed a job staging shows for installation artist Anthony Mc Call.
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These elegant pieces feature beautiful depictions of a variety of women, allowing you to add a feminine touch to your home or office.We're barely inside when Wittenberg starts peppering Kathy with questions about her own work, curious what inspired the portrait I'd emailed, a frontal shot of a naked and obviously lustful young man. At 38, Wittenberg is gorgeous in a low-key way you could pass on the street and only register a few steps later: wide-spaced eyes, full lips, hair chopped short as if she'd cut it herself in a mirror. In manner, she's both intense and California casual, a mixture of her childhood in Marin County (where her father was a lawyer, her mother an interior designer and teacher) and her spiritual home in downtown New York.These days, Wittenberg says, she finds sources for many of her paintings on Internet sex sites. Even then, at 13, 14, I already was really interested in the Renaissance artists, particularly Venetian painters like Veronese, Tintoretto, and Titian.From the beginning, she's surprisingly personal and chatty: "What's wrong with oversharing??! I'm so annoyed by how much New York emulates Europe with all these stiff classist social conventions." Occasionally, she mentions inviting me to her studio—but every time I try to set a date, she disappears. Isn't that why we cordon off sex, to contain its disruptive power?Finally, almost as an afterthought, I mention that my wife, Kathy, also paints male nudes, including one with an erection. Two days later, Kathy and I step off an elevator into Wittenberg's loft.
"She's a rare bird," Salle says when I call to ask about Wittenberg.