This is QR code number 5. This section features three portraits of women representing the concept of sexuality in very different ways. In front of you, three stark black-and-white photographs are mounted on shiny black square matboards and set side-by-side in a freestanding black steel display frame about two and a half feet in front of the wall. A photo collage of images taken by various photographers in the 1950s and 60s serves as a backdrop on the wall behind the portraits. It includes photos of affectionate couples, women fixing their makeup, and people in night clubs.
The first portrait shows a middle-aged man and woman, from the shoulders up, in costumes from the turn of the century, around 1900. The woman, actor Hermione Gingold, sits in the front, wearing a high white lace collar, large pearl earrings, and a flowered hat. She holds her hand over her heart and makes a comical expression—frowning heavily and twisting her mouth to one side. Wearing a suit and a straw hat, the man, Cecil Beaton, leans over her left shoulder. His smiling face is turned down toward hers. He reaches around from behind her to her left eye, pulling her lower eyelid down with one hand and her upper lid up with the other, revealing the white of her eyeball.
In the second portrait, a blonde woman, Marilyn Monroe, has her bare arms thrown around the shoulders of a man, Arthur Miller, sitting in front of her. Her eyes are closed and she smiles widely, leaning against him from behind and pressing her left cheek and chin against the side of his head. Her skin glows against the darker fabric of his jacket. He offers a restrained smile and gazes into the camera from behind heavy round glasses.
A young, muscular white man, Richard Dubois—seated and shirtless—fills the lower left corner of the last portrait. He holds his left arm out to the side and flexes his bicep, looking down at the muscle with his face in profile. An older woman, Mae West, stands behind his arm, one hand curling around to rest on his elbow. She wears dark lipstick, heavy eye makeup, and a white gown with a wide stole of white fur around her shoulders. A dark, backlit headdress sits over her curled platinum hair.
From 1934 to 1968, Hollywood followed the Hays Code, a set of censoring guidelines drafted by a Catholic priest and instituted by the president of the Motion Picture Association. On-screen, married couples had separate beds, nudity was prohibited, and kisses were limited to three seconds. Meanwhile, studios created sex symbols to attract audiences. Women navigated between conflicting expectations—what was considered morally appropriate, sexy, personally satisfying?
Much of Richard Avedon’s career depended on women performing for the camera. In his fashion photographs, they embodied and reinforced public ideals of beauty, glamor, and sex appeal. But in his portraiture, Avedon often provided women the opportunity to present themselves and communicate their own ideas about how women should look, be, and act.
Caption: Life magazine, December 22, 1958
About the photos label
In each of these photographs, a woman navigates a different relationship with sexuality.
Giving a comical grimace, Hermione Gingold [left] is pictured with Cecil Beaton, costume designer for the 1958 film Gigi. She played Madame Alvarez, who trains her granddaughter to be a courtesan—a high-society mistress.
Richard Avedon photographed Marilyn Monroe [center], an iconic sex symbol, with her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Here she is a joyful wife rather than an alluring public figure.
In a gender-based twist, Mae West [right] ogles the younger and shirtless Mr. America 1954, Richard DuBois. West’s forthright attitude toward women’s sexuality gained her fans and made for bawdy comedy. It also led to her arrest for her 1926 play, Sex.
You are at the end of the inner wall. The last two sections of photographs are on your right. This guide will take you to the photographs then bring you back around to the living room. To reach QR code 6, follow the path to your right around the corner of a freestanding wall. The code will be on your left and indicated by a floor marker.