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“A Simulacrum of Ambiguity": Luigi Ontani and the Deconstruction of Gender and Sexuality in the Tableau Vivant

1 May 2015


Since the early part of the 1960s, the Italian artist Luigi Ontani has been producing various works known as tableaux vivants, or living pictures, which he also calls quadrinon- quadri (paintings-non-paintings). The little previous scholarship on Ontani connects the importance of these works with the revival of the tableau vivant within the Arte Povera and Transvanguardia movements during the 1970s. The focus for my research was on Ontani’s work ranging from 1968 to 1980 with an emphasis on how Ontani’s tableaux vivants, in particular, reveal the artist’s pursuit towards destabilizing conventional expectations regarding gender and sexual identity. In particular, I argue that Ontani’s tableaux vivants deconstruct the binary relationships within gender and sexuality through the artist’s use of photography as a tool for gender transformation and performance. By using the theoretical principles and practices of Deconstruction and Queer Theory, I argue how a deconstruction of gender and sexuality can be observed in Ontani’s work through the recognition of various iconographic attributes as signifiers of homoerotic behavior and an ambiguous gender and sexual identity. Furthermore, I analyze how Ontani’s work alters, and at times, abandons the accustomed performance of gender stereotypes to instead place a greater emphasis on androgyny and non-binary gender, as well as the ability to transform one’s own gender identity through a disassociation of anatomical sex. This study provides evidence of the important contributions of often-overlooked queer artists. In particular, it addresses the frequent rejections of the social constructions of gender and sexuality in art historical analysis.


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