This painting, about 4′ square, sold for $61,000 in 2008.
The picture depicts three rape scenarios: the first begins with the protagonist wearing “pretty new shoes” and ends with the victim’s beheading and inner uncertainty about what just happened (“now what is it I’m feeling?” asks her disembodied head). In the second (“Funnier”) the victim fights back, but it is unclear whether she is successful. In the third (“Funniest”) a nail-polished hand fires a gun at a set of disembodied dude-organs (“Oh geez, is it really all that bad?” asks the hand. “Don’t shoot” says the dude-organ).
On the edge of the picture, a headless angel flap flap flaps, captioned “too late” and “couldn’t decide.”
What you can’t make out from my bootlegged JPEG are the tiny scribbled inscriptions that reveal, comic book-style, the woman’s inner monologue, some Greek chorus stuff, and the male figures’ (rapist, doctor) out-loud utterances.
“– and don’t forget to dress for success! the Dali Lama”
“Shut up! Can you find anything to cram in her mouth?”
“Bad panties to be caught raped in. Plan ahead.”
“– We don’t know if she enjoyed it or not. This case remains a mystery…”
“Out of my way– I’m a
shit doctor. Slut.”
“Evidence too embarrassing”
Here is the Artist’s statement, 1993:
Do victims feel the kick as pain or pleasure? ‘Fuck off.’ When the object of my love and affection gives me the boot as hard as he can it hurts quite a bit. Also, a deep feeling of humiliation and rejection (harder please). Yet there is something horny about the feeling: dear old Dad. Of course I go back for more (home). This is a riot for everyone with their shit together. Well no alternatives came to mind at the time. What can I say? And all these bruises about the face and misshapen lip touching the nose (a turn-off) so everyone knows what you’ve been up to. Oh, the embarrassment, the shameful feeling of worminess. ‘Look, an untogether woman’ Even from Dad! ‘How could she let that happen?’ No gun. ‘How could she do that to herself?’ How did I kick myself in the head? I am a worm, hear me whimper mumble mumble. Fuck you all. Fifteen years of therapy, groups, twelve-step-programmes. I’ll never do it again. Then I am attacked and raped by a total stranger (I swear! O can’t he see that I am centered and working on boundary issues? That I have my shit together: Hell — I OWN my OWN SHIT. What gives? Why wasn’t I training in combat? Should I go outside again? Well, no alternatives came to mind at the time.**
Back in the 70s one of my art history professors, the curmudgeonly conservative Norris Kelly Smith (d. 1998), used to do this for the final exam: He’d project a slide of some ghastly masterpiece from the Uffizi and say “Would you hang this on your living room wall? Why or why not?”
Just so you know, if you wrote in your bluebook “I wouldn’t hang this on my wall because I don’t like it,” you’d get an F.
Because Norris K was so enamored of his Caravaggios and Parmagianinos and Cavatelli Conbroccolis, I never thought to piss him off and squander my grade point average by writing anything negative about the paintings. So I’d puke out all the crap he wanted to hear about vanishing points and contrapposto enbiggening the Glory of Man.
I get a big charge outta imagining what Norris K would have said about Sue Williams. He probably wouldn’t even have considered it art.
I wouldn’t hang A Funny Thing Happened on my wall because I wouldn’t want to have to look at the graphic though sardonic representation of rape every day over my pitcher of margs. I would certainly hang it on your wall, though, if you lived nearby, along with a printout of Williams’ artist statement, because I would like to come and see it sometimes, and enjoy the heartwarming validation of the creepy sensation of the self-doubtiness of the sex class experience, and because it is funny and horrible at the same time, a pairing I find appealing when “horrible” is unavoidable.
* Sorry, I don’t own this painting, so the best I can do is this is crappy scan from my coffee table book. Another online image is available here, it’s smaller but sharper.
** Rickett, Helena and Peggy Phelan. Art and Feminism. New York: Phaidon Press. 2006. p 160.