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Sasha Grey

by Pedro Vélez
Sasha Grey, Neü Sex, 2011, Vice Books, 192 pp., $30

I wish I could tell you that at least one image in Sasha Grey’s new monograph, Neü Sex, is as radical as Lynda Benglis sporting a dildo in her 1974 Artforum spread, critiquing art-world sexism by showing that it takes a big tool to get in.

But I can’t. Which is too bad, because Grey has shown great promise in transitioning smoothly from hardcore Lolita (taking in 15 guys at one time and gagging on cum) to sensitive humanitarian who reads Sartre and does muse duty for Steven Soderbergh, Terry Richardson and Richard Phillips, among others.

One would think that with this kind of baggage, and patronage, our debutante would have a full arsenal of wild imagery at her disposal to blow us to smithereens. However, things are not quite going her way -- at least not yet.

The problem with Grey, as well as other starlets of her generation like James Franco and Lady Gaga, is that they really don't know how to exploit the broad platform they have been given and use it to devise what are meaningful works of art. Everything they do is either politically correct, surely filtered by corporate publicists, or imaginatively diminished, framed by commercial taste. You see, these starlets are brands, they exist to sell products, and it shows.

Neü Sex is 192 pages choke-full of generic nudies, sexy self-portraits and nonchalant vistas of Grey's daily grind. You can see her peeing on sidewalks and in toilets, mopping floors wearing nothing but sandals, striking zombie-like poses in a shower with fake blood all over her pubescent body (a parody of Psycho), and hanging with rock star Billy Corgan.

These images are interspersed with short diary entries seemingly written by a robot. From the bunch my favorite photograph is perhaps one in which she lies on top of graffitied highway barrier, butt-naked and sort of lifeless. It reminds me of the androgynous nude teen hero of Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Joseph Bara (1794).

I might be projecting my own fantasies onto Sasha here -- but what the heck. Why not project a little more?

If Grey were a grad student I would recommend that she avoid referencing Pop culture and the insipid feminist theory of Sex in the City at all costs. I would have her look at the work of the European collective Ondrej Brody & Kristofer Paetau, especially their video The Studio Visit & Fuck Faces (2008), in which a transvestite prostitute takes on the role of art collector and literally orgasms all over the phallic sculptural work of a desperate artist.

I would have Grey burn the candle at both ends studying Ana Mendieta’s “Rape” series, where she reenacts the hideous and heartbreaking sexual crimes perpetrated on undocumented immigrants. I wouldn’t have Grey delve too much into theory, but rather try to rely only on instinct. Maybe then she could stumble across the kind of ethical and moral dilemmas that would end up exposing herself, not just the idyllic sheen of her tiny body.

I’m rooting for Sasha. Why not? After all, we already have more than enough sex-tape divas, Kim Kardashians and other famous-for-nothings to last us a lifetime.

PEDRO VÉLEZ is an art critic and writer hibernating in Chicago.