Here is a post written by Daniel Maidman, one of the artists exhibiting work in our current show HUNG.
Well, here's a bit of a format switch-up for you. I bumbled my way (with the generous help of Fedele Spadafora) into a group show of male nudes at Gitana Rosa Gallery in Brooklyn on September 10th, and the show opened last Friday, the 17th, at 7 p.m. I've somehow gotten a reputation as that one guy who can write words, so the gallery owner, Vanessa Liberati, asked if I would write a page of text about the show for the thing in the lobby where galleries tend to put a page of text about shows.
So this post, also at the request of the extremely clever, attractive, effective, charming, and well-dressed Vanessa, is that page of text. The show opened, as I said, at 7 p.m. on Friday. When did I get to see the pieces and sit down and write the text? 6:35 p.m. This bit of writing amounts to about 10 minutes; it doesn't have the extravagant 45 minutes I usually lavish on my well-thought-through blog posts, and I'm worried it might not be up to my standards. It's definitely more art-speaky.
Let me make a deal with you - if you can scrape off the art-speak and find there's something worthwhile in there, let me know, and I'll feel free to post this kind of thing once in a while if it comes up in the future. If, on the other hand, you feel I'm abusing, for self-promotion, the time you give this blog, let me know that too, and I will apologize to future gallery-owners under the heading the readers have spoken.
So here's the text, with the amusing name of the show first:
HUNG: CHECKING OUT THE CONTEMPORARY MALE
Let’s agree, for a minute, that we can see a point to the nude as a subject for art. Straight out of the gate, then, we will be biased toward the female nude. Naked, or nearly-naked, women surround us: in our advertising, our television, our Internet. Our perception of women and their bodies is extraordinarily integrated – or fragmented, depending on your point of view. Either way, this perception reflects constant exposure.
The male nude still produces a shock of the forbidden, of the unknown; in fact, it produces the same shock that the female nude produced a century ago. This is a surprising effect, but as you browse around HUNG: Checking Out the Contemporary Male, odds are better than even that you will find yourself thinking – Holy crap, this is a lot of penis in one room.
And this brings up an interesting question: just what is it that makes the male nude special and distinct, that makes it different from the female nude?
I would offer you two loci of difference, one physical and one pertaining to gender and the spirit. The physical difference is the penis and the hair. Hips and waists, asses and faces – all of these can make a transit between the sexes with their forms more or less intact. But when you spot the penis and the hairy chest, you can only be looking at a man. Body hair and penises dominate this show, denoting the specificity of male nudity and producing the initial sense of shock. They define the playing field – they piss on the tree, so to speak.
More subtly, the second locus of difference is the concept of masculinity. This is more elusive, more difficult to define. We know more or less what we mean by the feminine, but we have lost that clear sense of the masculine, the unselfconscious, swaggering, strong masculine, which characterizes, for instance, the men of Rubens and Velazquez.
It is in respect to identifying and expressing this sense of masculinity that I think that HUNG goes beyond being merely a stunt-show, a concept-album, and enters into the realm of artistic synthesis and progression. A variety of ideas and approaches to the problem is expressed here.
We have visions of girlish waifs, of S&M musclemen, of ambivalent hipsters. Several pieces ironically regurgitate old ideas of the overpowering masculine, and it seems the artists have surprised themselves with the sympathy they found with these ideas once they tried them on for size. Other pieces identify masculinity and homoeroticism, both as a lived experience and as a fantasy ideal. Some pieces see masculinity as a threat, others as a joke. And some of the pieces see masculinity as simply one part of a personality, a kind of background condition out of which individuality emerges.
All of these pieces, in tackling a subject that still makes us cringe, work hard to reclaim a lost territory, a part of our humanity which has gone wanting on the contemporary American scene. I hope that in exploring the show, you will find yourself reawakened to slumbering resonances, enriched in your appreciation of yourself and the people around you, men and women alike, without whose differences from one another, life would be much poorer and more boring.
These are, to me, preliminary notes, because I think there's a lot to be said about the category of the male nude, and also, I didn't really think this through when I wrote it.
Here are a few pieces from the show, mine first, because who's in charge here? That's right.
I can't seem to find Fedele's painting anywhere on the Web. Here are a couple of really mediocre snaps of the opening:
And finally, a happy ending to this little story - my piece sold! A couple came in, sat themselves down on a sofa facing my painting, looked at it for a good long while, chatted with me for a bit, and left. They seemed like pleasant folks, and I thought, "Well, you know, at least they're thinking about it." Then Vanessa came over and told me they had bought it. I had a chance to chat with the couple again - they came in at the end of the evening, and were very enthusiastic about the painting.
Let me tell you what this is like, a bit, from the perspective of an artist who is interested in selling work.
First of all, money is nice. My work is terribly expensive to make, and I'm glad to have it start to pay for itself. Getting the attention of Vanessa and my painter friends is nice too.
But what's really nice is to make something, out of nothing, which people you do not know would vote to make a part of their lives. And not with a vote that costs nothing; they had to work to make the money they are trading for my painting, and they like the painting enough that that's worth it for them. I kind of got teared up about it, as I do about all of my art sales. I think my work is beautiful, but who cares what I think? To have other people think it's beautiful enough (in whatever broad way you want to define beautiful) to live with, is very rewarding for me. This is why I am grateful to all of my collectors.
So those are my feelings.