“Representations of Masculinity: Where are all the Naked Men?” Art Exhibit, MAC650 Gallery, 650 Main Street, Middletown, CT October 1-17, 2015.
MAC650, an art gallery in Middletown, CT, recently hosted a show curated by artist Hannah King of New Haven showcasing artistic explorations of masculinity and male nakedness in a variety of artistic media. King was inspired to focus on this theme after attending a photography show at MAC650 over a year ago that had been billed as celebrating the nude in photography. Struck by the overwhelming presence of naked women in the show, she decided to respond to the art world’s tendency to overrepresent women as nudes and to underrepresent naked men by creating a show focusing solely on the male body. The show features forty-four artworks by nineteen Connecticut based artists.
All nineteen participating artists created pieces that explore the diverse facets of masculinity and nakedness. In the exhibition catalog, each artist submitted a statement explaining his/her motivation for contributing to the show. Most cite an interest in demystifying or desexualizing nudity in general and many confront established perceptions of the male body. Some aim to playfully subvert artistic notions of beauty or strength by placing naked men in mundane or silly settings (rather than on pedestals or scallop shells) or by posing their models in desexualized and unflattering positions. For example, Samuel G. Carson submitted four small ink and graphite drawings of a generic looking guy in unglamorous poses: squatting in a simian posture, chugging milk from the jug naked, petting his cat while watching videos and measuring his average sized penis with a ruler. Other artists responded to the show’s theme by highlighting penises on their canvas such as Ellen King’s ink and graphite Falls or Sophie Peters’ The Grace of You oil painting. Both pieces present penises in a non-threatening and unglorified manner welcoming the viewer to contemplate the most fundamental aspects of nakedness.
Hannah King’s four small photographs convey the intention and challenges of the show beautifully. Her piece Gaze features a close up of a nude model folded tightly into himself and half obscured by shadows. His expression can be read as slack, disinterested, disempowered. The unnamed model gazes directly at the viewer and holds our eye. His eyes appear to be the most naked aspect of his being. Viewers become acutely aware of the power of his gaze, which is now turned back on us- not coyly or hostilely, but almost thoughtfully and with an invitation to reflect upon the relationship between the naked subject and the clothed consumer of art.
Anna Mastropolo’s mixed media painting of gouache, charcoal, paper and clay offers viewers one of the most vulnerable visions of masculinity titled To Breathe, the Feel, to Know I’m Alive. Using warm but muted browns, purples and earth tones, she has captured the subject’s emotionally complex reaction to his own nakedness. Standing in a nearly Christ-like pose, the thin, bearded male figure appears confused and uncertain and at the mercy of the artist and viewer for whom he must present his small, unclothed body.
The most heart-breaking pieces in the show are Danielle Julius’s two oil paintings: Born to be Hated and Dying to be Loved. Both offer visions of black men who wear pants but whose shirtless muscular torsos feel more naked than some of the other artists’ works. With bowed heads and hidden faces, these models remind viewers that even the strongest bodies can still be broken and damaged and that masculine beauty can be a liability rather than an asset.
MAC650 Gallery serves as the exhibit space for the North End Artist Co-operative in Middletown, which provides residential and studio space for local artists. The gallery and apartments are owned and operated by the artists/residents whose mission include “working together to bring quality art to the people of Middletown”. This show involved the community and artists in several capacities. Jesse Newman, who contributed three photographs to the show, also performed with his band during the opening on October 1. The show also included an artist-led male figure drawing class on October 8, which was attended by approximately twenty people from the area.
This was a powerful, interesting and successful show. Hannah King realizes her twin goals of offering viewers, collectors and artists opportunities to experience the male body in art and of addressing the discrepancy between the use of female and male nudity by both normalizing the naked male body and by encouraging viewers to consider and debate their own fears or aversions to being confronted by penises and male bodies on gallery walls.
Editor’s Note: Although this exhibit has now closed, there is a Website: http://mac650gallery.wix.com/masculinity The site will take you to artist statements re: the project. The MAC650 Gallery’s Website is: http://www.mac650.com/
Western Connecticut State University