The Vaseline Muses are a series of 22 black and white photographs of nude female performers. Actually, they are not photographs of performers, but photographs of photographs of performers found in books and magazines. They were shot through a Vaseline-smeared lens in order to produce a blurry romantic effect that endows the images with a somewhat nostalgic overtone. This effect is perhaps most familiar because of its use by the popular photographer David Hamilton, who specializes in soft-core erotic photographs of young girls. The Vaseline Muses depict women associated with the 20th Century avant garde; they primarily document Happenings, Performance Art events, and avant garde theatre productions ranging in date from the Nineteen Twenties to the mid-Eighties. They are compiled in a book titled Why I Got into Art, by an anonymous author, which was published by the Jablonka Galerie and the Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König, Cologne, Germany, in 1991. The book, which is double-sided, features an introduction by cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen. One side of the book features his text in German, while in the other it has been translated into English. The Muses are reproduced in the German half, in the English section they have been replaced with black rectangles.
The intentions of Anonymous are open to conjecture, but it could be that, following the period of hard-core Feminist Art practice in the Nineteen Seventies, Anonymous felt compelled to examine his or her true erotic attractions free from that movement’s moral constraints. In keeping with the iconoclastic restriction against imaging the female form common at that moment in art history, Anonymous could, in fact, have largely excluded depictions of the female form in his or her pictorial work in deference to this politic. The Vaseline Muses could represent his or her conflicted rebellion against such restriction. Many of the images in the series stem from the period of the Sixties’ “sexual revolution”, a time that Anonymous might have been too young to actually participate in, but that he or she developed a pseudo-nostalgia for . . . a morose sense of longing and missed opportunity. The Vaseline Muses are radical women who challenged the standards of a restrictive society. There is little doubt that Anonymous was drawn like a moth to the flame of their revolutionary fire. There is also little doubt that Anonymous feels compelled to keep this attraction secret, either out of some sense of embarrassment or shame . . . or because the secrecy of hidden desire magnifies his or her erotic titillation.