Let’s Talk about Sex at the Legion of Honor

October 19, 2017

In July 2017, contemporary British artist Sarah Lucas brought the female gaze to the Legion of Honor. As part of our series of artist dialogues celebrating the life and death of sculptor Auguste Rodin, Sarah Lucas: Good Muse was purposely confrontational in its allusions to sexual acts, both verbal and physical, highlighting Rodin’s erotic side and confronting his idealizing male gaze with work that took a demonstrative stance both against female objectification and for the empowerment of women.

Featuring a series of urine-colored resin toilets, sculptures of spread legs, and androgynous figures formed out of cotton and panty hose, the exhibition elicited strong and often polar reactions. Although many visitors were intrigued and amused, many others were shocked and scandalized by what they saw.

In anticipation of this divided response, we developed our “Let’s Talk about Sex” campaign, an educational and entertainment-driven social media initiative that ran for the duration of the exhibition across Instagram and Instagram Stories.

With this campaign, we aimed to teach our audience about the history and development of sexual imagery, gender representations, and nudity in art, selecting key works from our permanent collection and comparing their applicable themes or ideologies to those found in Sarah Lucas: Good Muse. For example, the way Lucas cast directly from her female models created sculptures that some visitors described as “pornographic,” but in the late 1800s, Rodin created a similar uproar with the subtle modeling and naturalism of The Age of Bronze.

“Let's Talk about Sex” Instagram Stories campaign

Critics accused him of casting directly from the model’s body, an act that would have broken with the artistic ethics of the time. The sculpture also caused controversy with its rendering of a realistic nude without the trappings of allegory, a pretext that allowed conservative art circles to justify the depiction of the unclothed human form. In his departure from this academic tradition, Rodin is now often considered the father of modern sculpture.

“Let's Talk about Sex” Instagram Stories campaign

“Let’s Talk about Sex” focused on Rodin’s sketches and sculptures, as well as works by other artists including Eustache Le Sueur and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Overall the feedback was positive, with our followers enjoying learning more about our permanent collection and drawing connections between the Instagram Stories and Good Muse. The completion rate of each of the five Stories was 10 percent higher than average, and in total we had more than 30,000 Story views and more than 40,000 impressions from accompanying posts — allowing for tens of thousands of opportunities for educational moments.

Social media is a way to engage with visitors inside and outside of the museum and make connections between centuries of art and present-day life. Not everyone who passes through our doors or follows us on social media will like each exhibition or every artwork in our collection, but through campaigns like “Let’s Talk about Sex,” we hope to create a dialogue not just between artists, but between visitors and our collection, too.

“Let's Talk about Sex” Instagram Stories campaign

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