Book Review

Pissing Figures 1280–2014 by Jean-Claude Lebensztejn

mostly fun book on peeing in art with a very off-colour digression

cw: reference to discussion of child abuse

This is another book in the David Zwirner Books ekphrasis series, and just like those I’ve read, before it’s a great read. Though it is incredibly French.

By that I don’t mean it’s written in a cod French phonetic accent, I mean it does that kind of “detached to the point of obnoxiousness” thing that one often finds in French essays (see Football by Jean-Philippe Toussaint and other examples if I can think of them before I publish this post). By this I am explicitly referring to the end of the first chapter which is about – of course, where else would you open a book about pissing in visual arts if not with Belgium’s Manneken Pis – when Lebensztejn very casually states that a few years ago, like in this century, a famous restaurateur installed a statue of peeing girl child to “rival” the famous pre-existing peeing boy, and then it turned out that the restaurateur and his senior restaurant manager were running a child pornography ring out of the series of restaurants they ran in Central Brussels, and then – basically in the same breath – Lebensztejn tells us that even later than this, someone installed a statue of a peeing dog in Brussels, too. The treatment of sustained and commercialised child abuse being treated as an “and in other news” aside akin to a statue of a dog, is what I mean by aggressively obnoxious detachment.

If, though, you’re not put off by art critics who write as if the internal lives of child victims of abuse don’t really exist, and you like peeing/piss (is peeing the new pooing?), then this is a super engaging, super fun sweep through around a thousand years of visual depictions of urination.

I really enjoyed it (aside from the aside mentioned above) but I’m very strange!

(the books is translated from the French by Jeff Nagy)

Order direct from David Zwirner Books via this link.

1 comment on “Pissing Figures 1280–2014 by Jean-Claude Lebensztejn

  1. Pingback: Eastbound by Maylis de Kerangal – Triumph Of The Now

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