Book review: Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex by Sophia Giovannitti

20 November 2023 - no responses

Author: Marina Vinnik


This book explores art and life, work, and art of Sophia Giovannitti, whose website features a list of works is available:

In the book Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex, the author dives deep into what we call love, art, or work in a capitalist system. She openly weaponises her feminine positionally by claiming her right not to work, to secure her means of existence from rich men and manages to make art out of it. In the tradition of sex positive feminist thought, she writes an auto fiction encounter loaded with theory and personal experience.


Many female artists have already explored the topic of sex work in their art. The closest to Giovannitti is probably Sophie Calle whose work is often based on voyeurism, curiosity, and introspection in projects like The Hotel from 1981. Elena Kovylina did likewise with her Vice Squad from 2004, along with a wide range of artists from Tracey Emin to Marina Abramović, who engage with the audience and treat their relationships as “durational performances”. Telling personal stories and sex-live encounters is firmly inscribed within the Western feminist art canon now and there is no wonder that Giovannitti is able to seamlessly perform the transition from her personal experience as a sex worker to her artistic practice in modern day New York.


The book Working Girl was recently published by Verso Books and features two parts with subsections. Part 1 is entitled “On Meaning” and part two is entitled “On Meaning” again. In the first part there are subsections such as: on Fantasy, on Violation, and on Legibility and the second part  is the conclusion of the book. Giovannitti writes wittily about all the difficult subjects that she faces as a woman living in NYC.

“I am a product of my environment. In their petite red-orange book, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, translated to English in 2011 as part of Semio-text(e)’s Intervention series, Tiqqun writes, “The world of the Young-Girl evinces a singular sophistication, in which reification has made added progress: In it, human relations mask market relations which mask human relations … Nothing is less personal than the ‘personal value’ of the Young-Girl.” In the right context, the consumption of my body, and its attendant value, does not feel personal. There are two me’s, and the me intentionally masking human relations with market relations is simply aggregating that experience into a particular track of my life, and, at times, bracketing it, so that the rest of my life feels less market-saturated. Perhaps this, too, though, is a fantasy: that I could effectively compartmentalize my own explicit commodification, making its edges neat so one me doesn’t bleed onto the next. But at least it’s my fantasy.” 


Sophia Giovannitti falls into the tradition of open and critical (theoretically informed) writing about the life of a woman who is involved in sex work as previously described by Virginie Despentes in her King-Kong Theory. This book is a provocative read that can offer a glimpse into the topic of sex work in its entire complexity without romanticism (see the part  on Violation) or stigma.


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