See How This Photographer Recreated Erotic Works by Rodin, Schiele, and Picasso With Live Models

When is an image pornography and when is it art?

A Schiele-inspired work from Erotic Masters by Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.

“I know it when I see it” is how US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously described pornography in a 1964 obscenity case.

But the Los Angeles-based photographer Rowan Metzner wants to go beyond this assumption and identify precisely when a nude becomes art and when it is pornography.

“In museums there are these erotic paintings and drawings and sculptures on display that are considered ‘high art’ and perfectly acceptable and legitimate,” Metzner tells artnet News. “Where rarely are photographs given the same treatment. When they are, there’s this dirty light to it.”

For her newest series, “Erotic Masters,” Metzner recreated nude paintings by three historical artists—Auguste Rodin, Egon Schiele, and Pablo Picasso—by photographing live models in similar poses. She sought to capture the overall mood of the original works and selected models who resembled the artists’ subjects, but occasionally employed filters, post-production techniques, and other effects.

The Rodin-inspired pictures, for instance, are blurry and grainy, approximating the loose, expressive manner of the artist’s sketches. She reimagined Schiele in color, setting her models against a tan-colored set to capture the warm yellow paper the artist favored. Picasso, on the other hand, was treated with sharp, detailed black-and-white imagery.

A Rodin-inspired photo by Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.

Metzner, who previously worked as a re-toucher for Playboy and an adult entertainment company, first got the idea for the project two years ago, while on a Tinder date. She saw a book on the man’s shelf titled Erotic Art of the Masters: The 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries and, after thumbing through it, the imagery stuck with her. (The relationship, however, only lasted three dates.)

Portrait of Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.

Half of the models in Erotic Masters are pornographic actresses; half aren’t. “I wanted to push the question even further,” Metzner says. “Had I only included porn stars, then critics would say, ‘Oh, you’re using porn actors, so it’s porn.’ If I only used my friends, then it would give people an out as well: ‘These are all just regular people, so it’s not porn.’”

Erotic Masters by Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.

Metzner is also putting out an 80-page book of her images, Erotic Masters, which happens to coincide with a similar show currently on view at the Met Breuer: “Obsession,” a collection of nude works by Picasso, Schiele, and Klimt, who Metzner originally intended to include in her project as well, but cut for space in the end.

See more images from Metzner’s book below.

A Schiele-inspired photo by Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.

A Rodin-inspired photo by Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.

A Rodin-inspired photo by Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.

A Picasso-inspired photo by Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.

A Schiele-inspired photo by Rowan Metzner. Courtesy of the artist.


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