Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Bunyan Pressing the Flesh: Sex Body Image and the Gay Male

04
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male’ at Kunstmuseum Bern

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2013 – 9th February 2014

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The Cult of Muscularity

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“… muscularity is a key term in appraising men’s bodies … this comes from men themselves. Muscularity is the sign of power – natural, achieved, phallic.”

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Richard Dyer. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p.114

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“The formation of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ (Elliott Gorn. The Manly Art. London: Robson Books, 1986) in the last decade of the 19th century was a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. The position of the active, heroic hetero-male was under attack from the passivity of industrialisation, from the expansion of women’s rights and their ability to become breadwinners, and through the naming of deviant sexualities that were seen as a threat to the stability of society. By naming deviant sexualities they became visible to the general public for the first time, creating apprehension in the minds of men gazing upon the bodies of other men lest they be thought of as ‘pansies’. (Remember that it was in this decade the trials of Oscar Wilde had taken place in England after he was accused of being a sodomite by The Marquis of Queensbury. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rules that governed boxing, a very masculine sport in which a man could become a popular hero, were named after his accuser. By all accounts he was a brute of a man who despised and beat his son Lord Alfred Douglas and sought revenge on his partner, Oscar Wilde, for their sexual adventures). Muscles became the sign of heterosexual power, prowess, and virility. A man had control over his body and his physical world. His appearance affected how he interacted with this world, how he saw himself, and was seen by others, and how closely he matched the male physical ‘ideal’ impacted on his own levels of self-esteem. The gymnasium became a meeting point for exercise, for health, for male bonding, and to show off your undoubted ‘masculinity’…”

The development of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ may also have parallels in other social environments which were evolving at the turn of the century. For example, I think that the construction of the muscular mesomorphic body can be linked to the appearance of the first skyscrapers in cities in the United States of America. Skyscrapers were a way increasing visibility and surface area within the limited space of a crowded city. One of the benefits of owning a skyscraper like the Chrysler Building in New York, with its increased surface area, was that it got the company noticed. The same can be said of the muscular body. Living and interacting in the city, the body itself is inscribed by social interaction with its environment, its systems of regulation and its memories and historicities (his-tor-i-city, ‘tor’ being a large hill or formation of rocks). Like a skyscraper, the muscular body has more surface area, is more visible, attracts more attention to its owner and is more admired. The owner of this body is desired because of his external appearance which may give him a feeling of superiority and power over others. However this body image may also lead to low self-esteem and heightened body dissatisfaction in the owner (causing anxiety and insecurity in his identity) as he constantly strives to maintain and enhance his body to fulfil expectations he has of himself.

Of course, body image is never a static concept for the power of muscular images of the male body resides in their perceived value as a commodity. This value is reinforced through social and moral values, through fluid personal interactions, and through the desire of self and others for a particular type of body image; it is a hierarchical system of valuation. It relies on what type of body is seen as socially desirable and ‘beautiful’ in a collective sense, even though physical attractiveness is very much a personal choice.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan. Excerpt from “Bench Press,” in Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male, PhD thesis, RMIT Univesity, Melbourne, 2001.

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*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY AND MALE SEXUAL AROUSAL – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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Many thankx to the Kunstmuseum Bern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Alexis Hunter. 'Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society - exorcise' 1977

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Alexis Hunter (born Epsom, New Zealand, 1948)
Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society – exorcise
1977
10 Color photographs, mounted on two panels, both 25 x 101 cm
Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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Ugo Rondinone. 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' 1998

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Ugo Rondinone (born Brunnen, Switzerland, 1962)
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
1998
C-prints between Alucobond and Plexiglas
Each 180 × 125 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern, purchased with the donation of an Art Lover
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Digitally manipulates photos of women depicted in various suggestive poses, replacing their features with his own in a sufficiently consistent way for the image to retain its erotic content. By slipping into different bodies, he tests his own body and appearance, and he raises the issue of reality. The artist can only offer his own, man-made version.

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Lynda Benglis. 'Artforum Advertisement in: Artforum, November 1974, Vol. 13, No. 3, S. 3-4' 1974

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Lynda Benglis (born Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA, 1941)
Artforum Advertisement in: Artforum, November 1974, Vol. 13, No. 3, S. 3-4
1974
26.7 × 26.5 × 0.5 cm
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München
(From the section Experiments)

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Peter Land. 'Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994' 1994

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Peter Land (born Aarhus, Denmark, 1966)
Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994
1994
Colour video
Time, 25 Min.
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Ursula Palla. 'balance' 2012

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Ursula Palla (born Chur, Switzerland, 1961)
balance
2012
Colour video installation
Time, 8 Min.
Courtesy the artist
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Masculinity under scrutiny

“This themed group exhibition is our contribution to the discussion on new role definitions of the male gender, a topic that has long been on the agenda of academia and popular culture. Works by artists of both sexes will address the issue of how contemporary art stages male role models and masculinity, critically scrutinizing the content of the same.

Who or what makes a man? How do men define themselves in art since feminism; how do they reflect on their gender and the portrayal thereof? Whereas the preferred angle of engaging with female artists is still today via “gender”, this is still a novel angle for looking at male artists. And as feminist art has finally become an established entity in major institutions, it is time to take a closer look at the art produced by men about men. The Sexual Revolution as well as the feminist and gay movements did not have only one side to them: they likewise impacted the roles of men and transformed images of masculinity. The exhibition therefore explores how contemporary Western artists of both sexes have, since the 1960s, invented new notions of masculinity or shattered existing ones. It does this with some 45 installations, some of which are large and extensive.

With this exhibition, the Kunstmuseum Bern is addressing a topic that, until now, has hardly been tackled in a museum context: the “normal” white heterosexual male, hitherto the ultimate measure for everything we consider characteristically human, is now facing a crisis. The exhibition and catalogue draw on the reflections and insights gained from masculinities studies to throw light on the consequences of the contemporary male crisis and how it is reflected in art, making the extent of the crisis visually palpable.

The works selected for the show have been divided up into six sections. These sections explore what “normal” might be and what the new nuances inherent in being “male” are today. The prescribed tour of the exhibition begins with the chapter on “Strong Weaknesses” and then proceeds through the sections focusing thematically on “Experiments”, “Emotions”, “Eroticism”, “Critique and Crisis”, and “Masculinity as Masquerade”. This route follows, at the same time, a roughly chronological order. The show is accompanied by a rich fund of educational programs with tours of the exhibition, discussions of artworks with invited guests, as well as a film program in collaboration with the cinema Kino Kunstmuseum, and not least, workshops for schools.

Participating artists: Vito Acconci / Bas Jan Ader / Luc Andrié / Lynda Benglis / Luciano Castelli / Martin Disler / VALIE EXPORT and Peter Weibel / Gelitin / Pascal Häusermann / Alexis Hunter / Cathy Joritz / Jesper Just / Jürgen Klauke / Frantiček Klossner / Elke Silvia Krystufek / Marie-Jo Lafontaine / Peter Land / Littlewhitehead / Sarah Lucas / Urs Lüthi / Manon / Paul McCarthy / Tracey Moffatt / Josef Felix Müller / Ursula Palla / Adrian Piper / Anne-Julie Raccoursier / Ugo Rondinone / Carole Roussopoulos / Rico Scagliola and Michael Meier / Sylvia Sleigh / Nedko Solakov / Megan Francis Sullivan / Sam Taylor-Johnson / Costa Vece / William Wegman / Silvie Zürcher.

Text from the Kunstmuseum Bern website

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat (born Brisbane, Australia, 1960)
Heaven (3 stills)
1997
Colour video
Time, 28 Min.
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Eroticism)

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Male to the Hilt: Images of Men

“The exhibition The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male zeroes in on the evolution of male identity since the 1960s. On view are works by 40 artists regardless of gender who question masculinity and stage it anew. The Kunstmuseum Bern seeks to foster dialogue in the exhibition and is therefore increasing its focus on social media. For the first time our visitors can respond to issues raised by an exhibition immediately on location…

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The whole spectrum of art media and male images

The exhibition is presenting works that cover the entire range of media used by artists, including paintings, drawings, photographs, films, videos, sculptures and performance-installations. Artists of all ages are represented in the exhibition, enabling it to highlight images of men in all age groups. Each of the artworks questions social norms, who or what a man is, while orchestrating masculinity in novel ways and reflecting on what it means to be a “man”. The artworks in the show take up the theme of masculinity or male emotions – as discussed in society in general or as openly demonstrated by men today: as weeping sport heroes, the disadvantaged position of divorced fathers, overstrained top managers or criminal youths.

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Of strong weaknesses, eroticism and the male in crisis

The exhibition is divided into six sections that explore key aspects of masculinity studies and thus simultaneously follow a loose art-historical chronological thread. The introductory section takes up the theme of “Strong Weaknesses” with representations of men weeping or expressing fear. The second section “Experiments” scrutinizes the exciting events that took place in conjunction with the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The section “Emotions” presents male emotionality in intensely stirring artistic orchestrations. The section “Eroticism” take us through a selection of artworks that investigate men as objects of desire. The last two sections of the exhibition “Crisis and Critique” and “Masculinity as Masquerade” investigate traditional male images and give us an account of the potential of new gender orientations.”

Press release from the Kunstmuseum Bern website

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Bas Jan Ader. 'I'm Too Sad to Tell You' 1970/71

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Bas Jan Ader (born Winschoten, Netherlands, 1942, died 1975 presumably on the high seas. Lived in California, USA, as of 1963)
I’m Too Sad to Tell You
1970/71
16mm, s/w
Time, 3:34 Min.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Sylvia Sleigh. 'Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair' 1971

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Sylvia Sleigh (born Llandudno, Wales, Great Britain, 1916; died New York, USA, 2010)
Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair
1971
Oil on canvas
131 x 142 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Sylvia Sleigh & Freymond-Guth Fine Arts Zürich
(From the section Eroticism)

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Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT. 'Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit' (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File) 1969

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Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT
Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File)
1969
Documentation of the action
5 s/w photographs, 40.4 x 50 cm / 50 x 40.4 cm
Sammlung Generali Foundation
Wien Foto: Josef Tandl
© Generali Foundation © 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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Gelitin. 'Ständerfotos - Nudes' (Standing Photos - Nudes) 2000

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Gelitin
Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes)
2000
Series of 15 Lambda prints
Various dimensions
(From the section Eroticism)

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Gelitin. 'Ständerfotos - Nudes' (Standing Photos - Nudes) 2000

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Gelitin
Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes)
2000
Series of 15 Lambda prints
Various dimensions
(From the section Eroticism)

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Austrian artists’ collective with Wolfgang Gantner, Ali Janka, Florian Reither, and Tobias Urban. Apparently became acquainted at a summer camp in 1978. Changed their name from Gelatin to Gelitin in 2005.

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“Those who lived through their childhood and youth as members of the baby-boomer generation in the period of the late nineteen-fifties to the mid-seventies, as we did, received a clear view of the world along the way. It was the Cold War. There were precise dividing lines, and it was possible to completely separate good and evil, right and wrong, from one other. The division of roles between men and women was regulated in a way that was just as self-evident. For many children of this time, it was natural that the father earned the money while the mother was at home around the clock and, depending on her social position, went shopping and took careof the laundry herself, or left the housework to employees in order to be able to dedicate herself to “nobler” tasks such as, for instance, beauty care. Family and social duties were clearly distributed between husband and wife: the “strong” sex was responsible for the material basics of existence and for the social identity of the family. The “weak” or also fair sex, in contrast, was responsible for the “soft” factors inside: children, housekeeping, and the beautification of the home. The year 1968 did away with bourgeois concepts of life. Feminism and emancipation anchored the equality of men and women in law. And since the nineteen-sixties, art has also dealt intensively and combatively with feminism and gender questions.

Since VALIE EXPORT walked her partner Peter Weibel on a leash like a dog in their public action that unsettled the public in 1968, legions of creators of art, primarily of the female sex, have questioned the correlations between the genders and undertaken radical reassessments. The formerly “strong” gender has thus long since become a “weak” one. Nevertheless, the exhibition The Weak Sex: How Art Pictures the New Male is not dedicated first and foremost to the battlefield of the genders. Nor is the gender question, which has so frequently been dealt with, posited in the foreground. The Weak Sex is instead dedicated to man as object of research. In what state does he find himself now that his classical role has been invalidated? How does he behave after the shift from representative external appearance to work within the family unit? And where does he stand in the meantime in the midstof so many strong women? What has become of the proud and self-assured man who once signed the school report cards with praise or reproach as head of the family? What has become of the XY species since then is presented – insightfully, sarcastically, and wittily – in the exhibition by Kathleen Bühler.”

Part of the Preface to the exhibition by Matthias Frehner, Director of the Kunstmuseum Bern and Klaus Vogel, Director of the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden

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Sam Taylor-Johnson. 'Steve Buscemi' 2004

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Sam Taylor-Johnson (born London (UK), 1967)
Steve Buscemi
2004
From the series: Crying Men, 2002-2004
C-Print
99.2 x 99.2 cm framed
Courtesy White Cube
© Sam Taylor-Johnson
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Sam Taylor-Johnson. 'Gabriel Byrne' 2002

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Sam Taylor-Johnson (born London (UK), 1967)
Gabriel Byrne
2002
From the series: Crying Men, 2002-2004
C-Print
86.2 x 86.2 cm framed
Courtesy White Cube
© Sam Taylor-Johnson
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Costa Vece. 'Me as a Revolutionary, Dictator, Guerilla, Freedom Fighter, Terrorist, Jesus Christ' 2007

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Costa Vece (born Herisau, Switzerland, 1969)
Me as a Revolutionary, Dictator, Guerilla, Freedom Fighter, Terrorist, Jesus Christ
2007
Ultrachrome – Digitalprint
106 × 80 cm
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Ugo Rondinone. 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' 1998

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Ugo Rondinone (born Brunnen, Switzerland, 1962)
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
1998
C-print between Alucobond and Plexiglas
180 × 125 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern, purchased with the donation of an Art Lover
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Rico-Scagliola-&-Michael-Meier-Nude-Leaves-and-Harp-WEB

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Rico Scagliola & Michael Meier (born Zurich, Switzerland, 1985; born Chur, Switzerland, 1982)
Nude, Leaves and Harp
2012
Floor Installation, HD Digital Print on Novilux traffic, dimensions variable
Ed. 1/5

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Jürgen Klauke. 'Rot' 1974

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Jürgen Klauke (born Kliding, Germany, 1943)
Rot
1974
Series of 7 photographs
Each 40 × 30 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern
(From the section Experiments)

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Stronger and Weaker Sexes: Remarks on the Exhibition

Kathleen Bühler Curator Kunstmuseum Bern

In 1908, the Genevan politician and essayist William Vogt wrote the book Sexe faible (The Weak Sex), in which he examines the “natural” weaknesses and inabilities of the female gender. Intended as a “response to absurd exaggerations and feminist utopias,”1 since then the catchy title has shaped the battle of the sexes as a dictum. Like Otto Weininger’s misogynistic study Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character, 1903), Sexe faible is one of the texts from the turn of the previous century that justified the legal, political, and social subordination of women based on their anatomical and, according to the opinion of the author, thus also intellectual inferiority in comparison with men.2 The perception of women as the “weak sex” persisted tenaciously. It is first in recent years that this ascription has slowly been shifted to men, as for instance in the report by neurobiologist Gerald Huther called Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn (The Weak Sex and His Brain) published in 2009.

Polemics has long since yielded to statistics, and the most recent biological discoveries are gaining currency, such as the fact that male babies are already at risk in the womb because they lack a second X chromosome.3 This genetic “weakness” would apparently lead seamlessly to a social weakness, since males more frequently have problems in school, turn criminal, and die earlier.4 In addition to the findings on biologically based weaknesses also comes the social, economic, and political challenge, which has for some years been discussed as a “crisis of masculinity.” With this metaphor, “an attempt is made to apprehend all the changes that contribute to the fact that the dominance of the male gender, which was formerly consolidated to a large extent, … has lost the obviousness of being self-evident.”5 Nothing therefore demonstrates the transience of gender stereotypes more clearly, and one might rightly ask whether the earlier “weaknesses” might long since have come to be considered new “strengths.” The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern takes up the thread that was already spun by the small but noteworthy exhibition in Switzerland Helden Heute (Heroes Today) in 2005.6 At that time, the focus was put on hero images in contemporary art and on society’s current need for strong men in art and politics.7 The current exhibition in Bern, in contrast, argues quite differently that specifically images of “weak” men best represent the social and cultural liberation movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The fact that men today are allowed to express their feelings publicly, as is shown for instance by the example of the exceptional Swiss athlete Roger Federer, or that they are staged by female artists as object of desire and no longer as subject of desire is a crucial innovation in the visualization of gender identities. After various exhibitions in recent years were dedicated to gender relations, gender imprinting, or the social latitude in performative stagings of gender,8 the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern focuses exclusively on men in contemporary art for the first time.9 It brings together the points of view of male and female artists who deal either with their own experiences with men and/or being a man, or with an examination of the images of men that are available. This exhibition has been long overdue.

Nonetheless, what first needs to be overcome is the perception that “gender” themes are a woman’s matter and that only marginalized positions have addressed their social gender. Hegemonic male types – thus men who, according to general opinion, embody the dominant masculine ideal most convincingly – have only been reflected in public through media for a relatively short time, even though the male gender is also a sociocultural construct, just like that of women, transgender, or inter-gender individuals.10 What comes to be expressed here is the invisibility of norms. As is generally known, it is those social groups that hold the most power that actually expose their own status the least. In Western cultural tradition, these are physically sound, white heterosexual men.11 They remain the norm unchallenged as a “blind spot” without their position of power and their power to make decisions ever becoming a focus. The masculine-heterosexual dominance succeeds in “remaining out of the question itself,” as the art historian Irit Rogoff has criticized, by subordinating all representations of the “other” to their own norm, including women, individuals with a different sexual orientation, and non-whites.12

The fact that male bodies are becoming visible today in the most unexpected places is demonstrated in a striking way by the work Nude, Leaves and Harp (2012) by Rico Scagliola and Michael Meier, which graces the entrance area to the exhibition in Bern. The artist duo incorporated detailed images of their naked, sculpted bodies into a palm and marble decor on the floor. The path to the exhibition literally leads over their nakedness. Two exhibitions in Austria were also recently dedicated to this new presence of the naked man,13 with numerous works documenting “the deconstruction of hegemonic models of masculinity – the look of desire at the male body as well as body cult and exploitation,” which is also a focus of the exhibition in Bern.14 However, while those responsible in Linz and Vienna assumed a distanced, art-historical perspective by taking an iconographic approach based on the selection of motifs or a chronological approach according to epoch, the exhibition in Bern favors a different perspective. It focuses on representations of masculinity in art since the nineteen-sixties while simultaneously taking the historical conditions of being a man into consideration by utilizing central issues in masculinity research as a guide. What thus results is a logical division of the exhibition and this publication into six chapters.

The introductory chapter “Strong Weaknesses” revolves around the change in gender virtues and considers this based on the example of the weeping and fearful man. The chapter “Experiments” presents eccentric artistic stagings and sociocritical actions that were influenced by the sexual revolution. The chapter “Emotions” highlights the point in time at which men themselves increasingly cast aside the image of the successful and unflinching hero and explore men’s emotionality through doing so. The chapter “Eroticism” describes the change in gaze and position from the male subject to object of desire. The final two chapters “Crisis and Criticism” and “Masculinity as Masquerade,” in contrast, are dedicated to a younger generation of artists who deal out criticism of their “fathers” and also discover the arsenal of gender stagings and their utopian potential anew.”

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Footnotes

1 Une riposte aux exagérations, aux absurdités et aux utopies du féminisme is the subtitle.

2 Otto Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter, 19th ed. (Leipzig and Vienna, 1920), p. 390. Both Weininger’s book and Vogt’s pamphlet, which saw signs of cultural decay in the women’s movement, are considered to be expressions of a growing antifeminism. The often-used term “weak sex” then also provided the title of a theater piece by Edouard Bourdet in 1929, which was even filmed in 1933.

3 “Männer – Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn: Peter Schipek im Gespräch mit Prof. Dr. Gerald Hüther,”
http://www.sinn-stiftung.eu/downloads/interview_maenner_das-schwache-geschlecht.pdf, p. 2 (accessed July 2013).

4 Carmen Sadowski, “Der Mann: das schwache Geschlecht,” Express.de,
http://www.express.de/living/studien-belegen-der-mann—das-schwache-geschlecht,2484,1190404.html (accessed July 14, 2013).

5 Michael Meuser and Sylka Scholz, “Krise oder Strukturwandel hegemonialer Männlichkeit?,” in In der Krise? Männlichkeiten im 21. Jahrhundert, ed. Mechthild Bereswill and Anke Neuber (Münster, 2011), p. 56. See also the text by Michael Meuser in this book.

6 Helden Heute: Das Heldenbild in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, Centre Pasquart, Biel, 2005.

7 Sociologists interpret this as a sign of need in times of social upheaval. See Dolores Denaro, in Helden Heute: Das Heldenbild in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, ed. Dolores Denaro, exh. cat. Centre Pasquart (Biel, 2005), p. 20.

8 Oh boy! It’s a Girl, Kunstverein München, 1994; Féminin – Masculin, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1995; Rosa für Jungs: Hellblau für Mädchen, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin, 1999; Das achte Feld, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2006; to name but a few.

9 To date, this has occurred only in smaller exhibition spaces, above all during the nineteen-eighties and nineties, and has remained practically undocumented. An exception in this respect was the exhibition Women’s Images of Men (1984) at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, organized by Joyce Agee, Catherine Elwes, Jacqueline Morreau, and Pat Whiteread.

10 Inge Stephan, “Im toten Winkel: Die Neuentdeckung des ‘ersten Geschlechts’ durch men’s studies und Männlichkeitsforschung,” in Männlichkeit als Maskerade: Kulturelle Inszenierungen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, ed. Claudia Benthien and Inge Stephan (Cologne et al., 2003), p. 13.

11 Richard Dyer, “Introduction,” in The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation, ed. Richard Dyer (London and New York, 1993), p. 4.

12 Irit Rogoff, “Er selbst: Konfigurationen von Männlichkeit und Autorität in der Deutschen Moderne,” in Blick-Wechsel: Konstruktionen von Männlichkeit und Weiblichkeit in Kunst und Kunstge-schichte, ed. Ines Lindner et al. (Berlin, 1989), p. 141.

13 Nude Men, Leopold Museum, Vienna, 2012-13; The Naked Man, Lentos Museum, Linz, 2012-13.

14 Barnabàs Bencsik and Stella Rollig, “Vorwort,” in Der nackte Mann: Texte, exh. cat. Lentos Kun-stmuseum Linz and Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art (Budapest, 2012), p. 7.

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Urs Lüthi. 'Lüthi weint auch für Sie' (Lüthi also cries for you) 1970

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Urs Lüthi (born Kriens, Switzerland, 1947)
Lüthi weint auch für Sie (Lüthi also cries for you)
1970
Offset printing on paper
85,5 x 58,6 cm
Ed. 15/100
Kunstmuseum Bern Sammlung Toni Gerber (Schenkung 1983)
© Urs Lüthi
(From the section Experiments)

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Luciano Castelli. 'Lucille, Straps Attractive' 1973

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Luciano Castelli (born Lucerne, Switzerland, 1951)
Lucille, Straps Attractive
1973
Collage on cardboard
100 x 70 cm
Kunstmuseum St. Gallen
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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littlewhitehead. 'The Overman' 2012

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littlewhitehead (Craig Little, born Glasgow (UK), 1980. Blake Whitehead, born Lanark (UK), 1985)
The Overman
2012
Mannequin, towels, Boxing Glove, wooden base
120 x 120 x 120cm
Saatchi Collection, London Courtesy of the artist/Sumarria Lunn Gallery/Saatchi Collection
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Pascal Häusermann. 'Megalomania, No. 8' 2009

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Pascal Häusermann (born Chur, Switzerland, 1973)
Megalomania, No. 8
2009
Monotype, oil paint, shellac
43 x 29 cm
Private Collection, Courtesy the artist
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Self Portrait with Knickers' 1999

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Self Portrait with Knickers
1999
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Self Portrait With Skull' 1996

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Self Portrait With Skull
1996
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Smoking' 1998

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Smoking
1998
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Silvie Zürcher. 'Blue Shorts' 2005/6

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Silvie Zürcher (born Zurich, Switzerland, 1977)
Blue Shorts
2005/6
From the series I Wanna Be a Son
Collage
31.5 x 24.4 cm
Courtesy Silvie Zürcher
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Kunstmuseum Bern
Hodlerstrasse 12
3000 Bern 7
T: +41 31 328 09 44
E: info@kunstmuseumbern.ch

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 10h – 21h
Wednesday to Sunday: 10h – 17h
Mondays: closed

Kunstmuseum Bern website

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28
Oct
13

Text: ‘Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies’ Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Upsetting the court of public opinion…

A very interesting article, Covering their arts by John Elder (October 13, 2013 ), examines the controversy over Bill Henson’s images of children sparked an age of censorship that is still spooking artists and galleries in Australia. At the end of the article Chris McAuliffe, ex-director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, states that “There’s an assumption that the avant garde tradition is a natural law as opposed to a constructed space.”

Almost everything (from the landscape to identity) is a constructed space, but that does not mean that the avant grade cannot be deliberately transgressive, subversive, and break taboos. Artists should make art without fear nor favour, without looking over the shoulder worrying about the court of public opinion. McAuliffe’s statement may be logical but it certainly isn’t pro artist’s standing up to critique things that they see wrong in the world or expose different points of view that challenge traditional hegemonies.

While artists may not be outside the law if they believe in something enough to challenge the status quo they must have the courage of their convictions and go for it.

The essay below, written in October 2010 and revised in September 2012 and published here for the first time, examines similar topics, investigating the use of photography as subversive image of reality. Download the full paper (2Mb pdf)

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Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies

Dr Marcus Bunyan

September 2012

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Abstract

This research paper investigates the use of photography as subversive image of reality. The paper seeks to understand how photography has been used to destabilise notions of identity, body and place in order to upset normative mores and sensibilities. The paper asks what rules are in place to govern these transgressive potentialities in local, national and international arts policy and argues that prohibitions on the display of such transgressive acts are difficult to enforce.

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Keywords

Topography, photography, mapping, transgression, identity, space, time, body, place, arts policy, culture, obscenity, blasphemy, defamation, nudity, shock art, transgressive art, law, censorship, free speech, morality, subversion, freedom of speech, Social Conservatism, taboo, Other.

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“Through their power, institutions (such as the Arts Council of Australia) produce rituals of truth and we as artists can and must challenge this perceived truth through the use of transgressive texuality. This texuality “can become a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject, and thereby producing a zone of invisibility where knowledge/power is no longer able ‘find its target’.”44

Only through resistance can transgressive art, including subversive photography, challenge the status quo of a conservative worldview.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan September 2012

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Thomas J. Nevin. 'Hugh Cowan, aged 62 yrs' 1878

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Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Hugh Cowan, aged 62 yrs
1878
Detail of criminal register, Sheriff’s Office, Hobart Gaol to 1890, page 120, GD6719 TAHO
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Thomas J. Nevin produced large numbers of stereographs and cartes within his commercial practice, and prisoner ID photographs on government contract and in civil service. He was one of the first photographers to work with the police in Australia, along with Charles Nettleton (Victoria) and Frazer Crawford (South Australia). His Tasmanian prisoner vignettes (“mugshots”) are the earliest to survive in public collections.

Found guilty of wilful murder in early April 1878, Hugh Cowan’s sentence of death by hanging was commuted to life imprisonment. The negative was taken and printed in the oblong format in late April 1878, and was pasted to the prisoner’s revised criminal sheet after commutation, held at the Hobart Gaol, per notes appearing on the sheet. More information can be found on the Thomas J. Nevin: Tasmanian Photographer blog.

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Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi (1819-1889) 'Communards in Their Coffins' c. 1871

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Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi (1819-1889)
Communards in Their Coffins
c. 1871
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Galton_portr_1883_Inquiries-into-Human-Faculty-and-its-Development,-1883-WEB

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Francis Galton (1822 – 1911)
Composite portraits of Advanced Disease
1883
From Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development 1883
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Anonymous. 'Crowds lined up to visit Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), Schulausstellungsgebaude, Hamburg' November - December 1938

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Anonymous
Crowds lined up to visit Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), Schulausstellungsgebaude, Hamburg
November – December 1938
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Anonymous. 'Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition' 1936

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Anonymous
Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition
1936
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Introduction

“The artist is also the mainstay of a whole social milieu – called a “scene” – which allows him to exist and which he keeps alive. A very special ecosystem: agents, press attachés, art directors, marketing agents, critics, collectors, patrons, art gallery managers, cultural mediators, consumers… birds of prey sponge off artists in the joyous horror of showbiz. A scene with its codes, norms, outcasts, favourites, ministry, exploiters and exploited, profiteers and admirers. A scene which has the monopoly on good taste, exerting aesthetic terrorism upon all that which is not profitable, or upon all that which doesn’t come from a very specific mentality within which subversion must only be superficial, of course at the risk of subverting. A milieu which is named Culture. Each regime has its official art just as each regime has its Entartete Kuntz (‘Degenerate art’).”1

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Throughout its history photography has been used to record and document the world that surrounds us, producing an image of a verifiable truth that visually maps identity, body and place. This is the topography of the essay title: literally, the photographic mapping of the world, whether it be the mapping of the Earth, the mapping of the body or the visualisation of identities as distinct from one person to another, one nation or ethnic group to another. At the very beginning of the history of photography the first photographs astounded viewers by showing the world that surrounded them. This ability of photography to map a visual truth was used in the mid-Victorian period by the law to document the faces of criminals (such as in the “mugshot” by Tasmanian photographer Thomas J. Nevin, above): “Photography became a modern tool of criminal investigation in the late nineteenth century, allowing police to identify repeat offenders,”2 and through the pseudo-science of physiognomy to identify born criminals solely from photographs of their faces (see the “composite” photograph Francis Galton, above), this topography used by the Nazis in their particular form of eugenics.3 In the Victorian era photography was also used by science to document medical conditions4 and by governments to document civil unrest (such as the death of the Communards in Paris, above).5

Paradoxically, photography always lies for the photograph only depicts one version of reality, one version of a truth depending on what the camera is pointed at, what it excludes, who is pointing the camera and for what reasons, the context of the event or person being photographed (which is fluid from moment to moment) and the place and reason for displaying the photograph. In other words all photographs are, by the very nature, transgressive because they have only one visual perspective, only one line of sight – they exclude as much as they document and this exclusion can be seen as a volition (a choice of the photographer) and a violation of a visual ordering of the world (in the sense of the taxonomy of the subject, an upsetting of the normal order or hierarchy of the subject).6 Of course this line of sight may be interpreted in many ways and photography problematizes the notion of a definitive reading of the image due to different contexts and the “possibilities of dislocation in time and space.”7 As Brian Wallis has observed, “The notion of an autonomous image is a fiction”8 as the photograph can be displaced from its original context and assimilated into other contexts where they can be exploited to various ends. In a sense this is also a form of autonomy because a photograph can be assimilated into an infinite number of contexts. “This de and re-contextualisation is itself transgressive of any “integrity” the photograph itself may have as a contextualised artefact.”9 As John Schwartz has insightfully noted, “[Photographs] carry important social consequences and that the facts they transmit in visual form must be understood in social space and real time,”10 “facts” that are constructions of reality that are interpreted differently by each viewer in each context of viewing.

Early examples of the break down of the indexical nature of photography (the link between referent and photograph as a form of ‘truth’) – the subversion of the order of photography – are the Victorian photographs of children at the Dr Barnados’ homes (in this case to support the authority of an institution, not to undermine it as in the case of subverting cultural hegemony – see next section). “In the 1870s Dr. Barnardo had photographs taken that showed rough, dirty, and dishevelled children arriving at his homes, and then paired them with photographs of the same children bright as a new pin, happy and working in the homes afterwards. These photographs were used to sell the story of children saved from poverty and oppression and happy in the homes; they appeared on cards which were sold to raise money to support the work of these homes. Dr. Barnardo was taken to court when one such pair of photographs was found to be a fabrication, an ‘artistic fiction’.”11

Here the photographs offered one interpretation of the image (that of the happy child) that supports the authority of Dr Barnardo, the power of his institution in the pantheon of cultural forces. The power of truth that is vested in these photographs is validated because people know the key to interpret the coded ‘sign’ language, the semiotic language through which photographs, and indeed all images, speak. But these photographs only portray one supposed form of ‘truth’ as viewed from one perspective, not the many subjective and objective truths viewed from many positions. Conversely, two examples can be cited of the use of photography to undermine dominant hegemonic cultural power – one while being officially accepted because of references to classical Greek antiquity, the other seemingly innocuous photographic documentary reportage of the genetic makeup of the German people being rejected as subversive by the Nazis because it did not represent their view of what the idealised Aryan race should look like.

Baron von Gloeden’s photographs of nude Sicilian ephebes (males between boy and man) in the late 19th and early 20th century were legitimised by the use of classically inspired props such as statues, columns, vases and togas. “The photographs were collected by some people for their chaste and idyllic nature but for others, such as homosexual men, there is a subtext of latent homo-eroticism present in the positioning and presentation of the youthful male body. The imagery of the penis and the male rump can be seen as totally innocent, but to homosexual men desire can be aroused by the depiction of such erogenous zones within these photographs.”12 Such photographs were distributed through what was known as the “postcard trade” that reached its zenith between the years 1900 – 1925.13

August Sander’s 1929 photo-book Face of Our Time (part of a larger unpublished project to be called Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century) “included sixty portraits representing a broad cross-section of German classes, generations, and professions. Shot in an unretouched documentary style and arranged by social groups, the portraits reflected Sander’s desire to categorize society according to social and professional types in an era when class, gender, and social boundaries had become increasingly indistinguishable.”14 Liberal critics such as Walter Benjamin and photographer Walker Evans hailed Sander as a master photographer and a documenter of human types but with the rise of National Socialism in the mid-1930s “the Reichskulturkammer ordered the destruction of Face of Our Time‘s printing plates and all remaining published copies. Various explanations for this action have been offered. Most cast Sander in the flattering role of an outspoken resistor to the regime … While it is certainly plausible that the book’s destruction was a kind of punishment for the photographer’s “subversive” activities, it is more likely that the members of the new regime disagreed with Sander’s inclusion of Jews, communists, and the unemployed.”15 After this time his work and personal life were greatly curtailed under the Nazi regime. In an excellent article by Rose-Carol Washton Long recently, the author argues that Sander’s ‘The Persecuted’ and ‘Political Prisoners’ portfolios from People of the Twentieth Century counter the characterisation that his work was politically neutral.16

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Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856 - 1931) 'Two Male Youths Holding Palm Fronds' c. 1885 - 1905

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Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856 – 1931)
Two Male Youths Holding Palm Fronds
c. 1885 – 1905
Albumen silver
233 mm (9.17 in). x 175 mm (6.89 in)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
This work is in the public domain

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Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856 - 1931) 'Bacchanal' c. 1890s

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Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856 – 1931)
Bacchanal
c. 1890s
Catalogue number: 135 (or 74)
Gaetano Saglimbeni, Album Taormina, Flaccovio 2001, p. 18
This work is in the public domain

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August Sander (1876-1964) 'Unemployed Man in Winter Coat, Hat in Hand' 1920

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August Sander (1876-1964)
Unemployed Man in Winter Coat, Hat in Hand
1920
Silver gelatin photograph mounted on paper
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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August Sander (1876-1964) 'Victim of Persecution' 1938, printed 1990

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August Sander (1876-1964)
Victim of Persecution
1938, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2013
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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August Sander (1876-1964) 'Victim of Persecution' c. 1938

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August Sander (1876-1964)
Victim of Persecution
c. 1938
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2013
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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August Sander (1876-1964) 'Political Prisoner [Erich Sander]' 1943, printed 1990

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August Sander (1876-1964)
Political Prisoner [Erich Sander]
1943, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2013
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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The conditions of photography leave open spaces of interpretation and transgression, in-between spaces that allow artists to subvert the normative mapping of reality. While the term ‘transgressive art’ may have only been coined in the 1980s it is my belief that photography has, to some extent, always been transgressive because of the conditions of photography: its contexts and half-truths. Photography has always opened up to artists the possibility of offering the viewer images open to interpretation, where the constructed personal narratives of the viewer are mediated through mappings of identity, body and place that challenge how the viewer sees the world and the belief systems that sustain that view. Here photography can subvert, can undertake a more surreptitious eroding of the basis of belief in the status quo. Photography can address the idea of subjective and objective truths, were there is never a single truth but many truths, many different perspectives and lines of sight, never one definitive ‘correct’ interpretation. As David Smail rightly notes of subjective and objective truths,

“Where objective knowing is passive, subjective knowing is active – rather than giving allegiance to a set of methodological rules which are designed to deliver up truth through some kind of automatic process [in this case the image], the subjective knower takes a personal risk in entering into the meaning of the phenomena to be known… Those who have some time for the validity of subjective experience but intellectual qualms about any kind of ‘truth’ which is not ‘objective’, are apt to solve their problem by appealing to some kind of relativity. For example, it might be felt that we all have our own versions of the truth about which we must tolerantly agree to differ. While in some ways this kind of approach represents an advance on the brute domination of ‘objective truth’, it in fact undercuts and betrays the reality of the world given to our subjectivity. Subjective truth has to be actively struggled for: we need the courage to differ until we can agree. Though the truth is not just a matter of personal perspective, neither is it fixed and certain, objectively ‘out there’ and independent of human knowing. ‘The truth’ changes according to, among other things, developments and alterations in our values and understandings… the ‘non-finality’ of truth is not to be confused with a simple relativity of ‘truths’.”17

The truth changes due to alterations of our values and understandings; “truth” is perhaps even constructed by our values and understandings. What an important statement this is with regard to the potential subversive nature of photography.

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The Subversion of Cultural Hegemony: Cultural Policy, Photography and Problems of Interpretation

Some of the most common themes that transgressive art may address are the power of institutions (such as governments), the portrayal of sex as art (which may address the notion of when is pornography art and not obscenity),18 issues of faith, religion and belief, of nationalism, war, of death, of gender, of drug use, of culturally suppressed minorities, ‘Others’ that have been socially excluded (see definition of ‘Other’ above). Conversely, art that lies (another form of transgression) can be used to uphold institutions that wish to reinforce the perception of their social position through the verification of truth in reality. An example of this are photographs which purport to tell the ‘truth’ about an event but are in fact constructions of reality, emphasising the link between the referent and the photograph that is the basis of photography while subverting it (through faking it, through manipulation of the image) to the benefit of the ruling social class.19

Transgressive art that subverts cultural hegemony (the philosophical and sociological concept whereby a culturally-diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes)20 by upsetting predominant cultural forces such as patriarchy,21 individualism (which promotes individual moral choice),22 family values,23 and resisting social norms24 (institutions, practices, beliefs) that impose universal (if sometimes hidden) public moral25 and ethical26 values, has, seemingly, free rein in terms of local and centralised art policy in Australia because the responsibility for the outcomes of transgression rests in the hands of the artists and the galleries that display this art. This is in itself a cultural policy statement, a statement by abrogation rather than action. The statement below on the Australia Council for the Arts website, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body is, believe it or not, the only statement giving advice to artists about defamation and obscenity laws in Australia. The website then refers artists to the Arts Law Centre of Australia Online for more information, of which there is very little, about issues such as defamation, obscenity, blasphemy, sedition and the morals and ethics of producing and exhibiting art that challenges dominant cultural stereotypes, images and beliefs.

“Defamation and obscenity laws in Australia can be very tough and vary substantially from state to state. If you have any doubts discuss them with others and try and assess the level of risk involved. Unfortunately, these are highly subjective areas and obscenity laws are driven by current community standards that are constantly shifting. Defaming someone in Australia can be a very serious offence. Don’t think that just because your project is small it won’t be noticed. Sometimes controversy can bring a project to public attention. (Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing!) And just because your project is small, this does not protect you from potential prosecution in the courts. Although not advised, if you do take risks in these areas make sure your project team are all equally aware of them and all in favour of doing so.”27

While challenging the dominant paradigm (through the use of shock art28 for example) might raise the profile of the artist and gallery concerned, the risks can be high. Even when artistic work is seemingly innocuous (for example the media and family values furore over the work of Australian artist Bill Henson29 that eventually led the Australia Council for the Arts to issue protocols for working with children in art,)30 – forces opposed to the relaxing of social and political morals and ethics (such as governments, religious authorities and family groups) can ramp up public sentiment against provocative and, what is in their opinion, licentious art (art that lacks moral discipline) because they believe that it is art that is not “in the public interest” or is considered offensive to a “common sense of decency.” The ideology of social conservatism31 is ever present in our society but this ideology is never fixed and is forever changing; the same can be said of what is deemed to be transgressive as the above quotation by the Australia Council notes. For example George Platt Lynes photographs of homosexual men associating together taken in the 1940s were never shown in his lifetime in a gallery for fear of the moral backlash  and the damage this would cause his career as a fashion photographer in America. Some of these photographs now reside in The Kinsey Institute (see my research into these images on my PhD website).32 Today these photographs would not even raise a whisper of condemnation such is their chaste imagery.33

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During my research I have been unable to find a definition of the theoretical role of arts policy in dealing with transgression in art. Perhaps this is acceptable for surely the purpose of an arts policy is primarily to facilitate artistic activity of any variety, whether is be transgressive or not, as long as that artistic activity challenges people to look at the world in a new light. The various effects, or impacts, of the arts and artistic activities can include, “social impacts, social effects, value, benefits, participation, social cohesion, social capital, social exclusion or inclusion, community development, quality of life, and well-being. There are two main discernable approaches in this research. Some tackle the issues ‘top-down’, by exploring the social impacts of the arts, where ‘social’ means non-economic impacts, or impacts that relate to social policies. Others, and in the USA in particular, approach effects from the ‘bottom up’, by exploring individual motivations for and experiences of arts participation, and evaluating the impacts of particular arts programs.”34

Personally I believe that the purpose of a cultural arts policy is to promote open artistic inquiry into topics that challenge the notion of self and the formation of national and personal identity. Whether this inquiry fits in with the socio-political imperative of nation building or the economic rationalism of arts as a cultural industry and how censorship and free speech fit in with this economic modelling is an interesting topic for research. Berys Gaut questions what role, if any, “ought the state to play in the regulation and promotion of art? The spectre of censorship has cast a long shadow over the debate … And wherever charges of film’s and popular music’s ethically corrupting tendencies are heard, calls for censorship or self-restraint are generally not far behind. Such a position is in a way the converse side of the humanistic tradition’s espousal of state subsidies for art, because of art’s purported powers to enhance the enjoyment of life and promote the spread of civilisation.”35

In terms of art and ethics the immoralist approach, “has as its most enduring motivation the idea of art as transgression. It acknowledges that ethical merits or demerits of works do condition their aesthetic value.”36 Often the definition of the ethical merits or demerits of an artwork come down to the contextualisation of the work of art: who is looking and from what perspective. “When you look at the history of censorship, it becomes clear that what is regarded as obscene in one era is often regarded as culturally valuable in another. Whether something is pornography or art, in other words, depends a lot on who’s looking, and the cultural and historical viewing point from which they’re looking.”37

The ideal political system of arts policy is an arms length policy free from political interference; the reality may be something entirely different for bureaucracy may seek to control an artist’s freedom of expression through censorship and control of economic stimulus while preserving bureaucracy itself as a self-referential self-reproducing system:

“The balance of power between the different systems of rationalities in a given society in a given historical is decisive for which forms of rationality will be dominating. For example, the rationality of the economic market forces, the political media and bureaucracies, the intrinsic values of the aesthetic rationality and of the anthropological conceptualisation of culture are all different rationalities in play in the cultural field … in a broader sense cultural policy, however, is also about the clash of ideas, institutional struggles and power relations in the production, dissemination and reception of arts and symbolic meaning in society.
In democratic societies governed by law, cultural policy according to this argumentation is the outcome of the debate about which values (forms of recognition) are considered important for the individuals and collectives a given society. Is it the instrumental rationality of the economic and political medias or the communicative rationality of art and culture, which shall be dominating in society?”38

This is an ongoing debate. In the United States of America grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to artists including Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano led to the culture wars of the 1990s. Their work was described as indecent and in 1998 the Supreme Court determined that the statute mandating the NEA to consider “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public” in awarding grants was constitutional.39 In Australia there was the furore over the presentation of the photograph “Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1997 that led to it’s attack by a vandal and the closing of the exhibition of which it was a part, as well as other incidents of cultural vandalism.40 In consideration of these culture wars, it would be an interesting research project to analyse the grants received by artists from the Australia Council for the Arts and Arts Victoria, for example, to see how many artists receive grants for transgressive art projects. My belief would be that, while the ideal is for the “arms length” principle of art funding, very few transgressive art projects that challenge the norm of cultural sensibilities and mores in Australia would achieve a level of funding. Australia is at heart a very conservative country and arts funding policies, while not specifically stating this, still support the status quo and their self-referential position within this system of power and control.

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George Platt Lynes (United States of America 1907 - 1955) 'Tex Smutley and Buddy Stanley [no title (two sleeping boys)]' 1941

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George Platt Lynes (United States of America 1907 – 1955)
Tex Smutley and Buddy Stanley [no title (two sleeping boys)]
1941
Gelatin silver photograph
19.2 h x 24.4 w cm
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' date unknown (probably early 1950s)

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George Platt Lynes
Untitled
date unknown (probably early 1950s)
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 x 7 1/2 in. (22.9 x 19.1 cm)
Collection of Steven Kasher Gallery
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 - 1989) 'Joe' 1978

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Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989)
Joe
1978
Silver gelatin photograph
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 - 1989) 'Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter' 1979

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Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989)
Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter
1979
Silver gelatin photograph
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing
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Mapplethorpe’s photos of gay and leather subcultures were at the center of a controversy over NEA funding at the end of the ’80s. Sen. Jesse Helms proposed banning grants for any work treating “homoerotic” or “sado-masochistic” themes. When Helms showed the photos to his colleagues, he asked “all the pages and all the ladies to leave the floor.”

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Bill Henson. 'Untitled #8' 2007/08

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Bill Henson
Untitled #8
2007/08
Type C photograph
127 × 180cm
Edition of 5 + 2 A/Ps
© Bill Henson/Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Andres Serrano (born August 15, 1950) 'Immersion (Piss Christ)' 1987

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Andres Serrano (born August 15, 1950)
Immersion (Piss Christ)
1987
Cibachrome print
60 x 40 inch.
© Andres Serrano
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

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Conclusion

“Policy in Australia aspires to achieve a high-level of consistency – if not to say universality – and so struggles with concepts as amorphous as mores, norms or sensibilities.”41 Hence there is no local or centralised public arts policy with regard to photography, or any art form, that transgresses and violates basic mores and sensibilities, usually associated with social conservatism. Implementing national guidelines for transgressive art would be impossible because of the number of artists producing work, the number of galleries showing that work, the number of exhibitions that take place every week throughout Australia (including artist and gallery online web presences) and the commensurate task of enforcing and policing such guidelines. These guidelines would also be impossible to establish due to a lack of agreement in the definition of what transgressive art is for the meaning of transgressive art, or any art for that matter, depends on who is looking, at what time and place, from what perspective and in what context. Photography opens up to artists the possibility of offering the viewer personal narratives and constructions of worlds that they have never seen before, transgressive text(ur)al mappings of identity, body and place that challenge how the viewer sees the world and the belief systems that sustain that view and that is at it should be. Art should challenge human beings to be more open, to see further up the road without the fear of a cultural arts policy or any institutional policy for that matter dictating what can or cannot be said.

Brain Long has suggested that arts policy is primarily to facilitate artistic activity and questions of public morality are best left to the legal system with its juries, judges, checks and balances42 but I believe that this position is only partially correct. I believe that it is not just the legal system but the hidden agendas of committees that decide grants and the hypocritical workings of the institutions that enforce a prejudiced world view that govern censorship and free speech in Australia. Freedom of expression in Australia is not just governed by the laws of defamation, obscenity and blasphemy that vary from state to state but by hidden disciplinary forces, systems of control that seek to create a reality of their own making.

“To reiterate the point, it should be clear that when Foucault examines power he is not just examining a negative force operating through a series of prohibitions… We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms – as exclusion, censorship, concealment, eradication. In fact, power produces. It produces reality. It produces domains of objects, institutions of language, rituals of truth.”43

Through their power, institutions (such as the Arts Council of Australia) produce rituals of truth and we as artists can and must challenge this perceived truth through the use of transgressive texuality. This texuality “can become a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject, and thereby producing a zone of invisibility where knowledge/power is no longer able ‘find its target’.”44

Only through resistance can transgressive art, including subversive photography, challenge the status quo of a conservative worldview.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
September 2013

Word count: 3,933

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Glossary of terms

Transgressive art refers to art forms that aim to transgress; ie. to outrage or violate basic mores and sensibilities. The term transgressive was first used by American filmmaker Nick Zedd and his Cinema of Transgression in 1985.45

Subversion refers to an attempt to overthrow the established order of a society, its structures of power, authority, exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy… The term has taken over from ‘sedition’ as the name for illicit rebellion, though the connotations of the two words are rather different, sedition suggesting overt attacks on institutions, subversion something much more surreptitious, such as eroding the basis of belief in the status quo or setting people against each other.46.

Blasphemy is irreverence toward holy personages, religious artifacts, customs, and beliefs.47 The Commonwealth of Australia does not recognize blasphemy as an offence although someone who is offended by someone else’s attitude toward religion or toward one religion can seek redress under legislation which prohibits hate speech.48.

Defamation – also called calumny, vilification, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words) – is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image. In common law jurisdictions, slander refers to a malicious, false and defamatory spoken statement or report, while libel refers to any other form of communication such as written words or images… Defamation laws may come into tension with freedom of speech, leading to censorship.49

An obscenity is any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time, is a profanity, or is otherwise taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting, or is especially inauspicious. The term is also applied to an object that incorporates such a statement or displays such an act. In a legal context, the term obscenity is most often used to describe expressions (words, images, actions) of an explicitly sexual nature.50

Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation, or both. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to indicate not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on “hate speech”… Freedom of speech is understood as a multi-faceted right that includes not only the right to express, or disseminate, information and ideas, but three further distinct aspects:

  • the right to seek information and ideas
  • the right to receive information and ideas
  • the right to impart information and ideas51

Censorship is the suppression of speech or other communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.

  • Moral censorship is the removal of materials that are obscene or otherwise considered morally questionable52

taboo is a strong social prohibition (or ban) relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and forbidden based on moral judgment and sometimes even religious beliefs. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society… Some taboo activities or customs are prohibited under law and transgressions may lead to severe penalties… Although critics and/or dissenters may oppose taboos, they are put into place to avoid disrespect to any given authority, be it legal, moral and/or religious.53

Topography as the study of place, distinguished… by focusing not on the physical shape of the surface, but on all details that distinguish a place. It includes both textual and graphic descriptions… New Topography, [is] a movement in photographic art in which the landscape is depicted complete with the alterations of humans54 …
New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape was an exhibition that epitomized a key moment in American landscape photography at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in January 1975.55

Morality is a sense of behavioural conduct that differentiates intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and bad (or wrong)… Morality has two principal meanings:

  • In its “descriptive” sense, morality refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct or social mores that distinguish between right and wrong in the human society. Describing morality in this way is not making a claim about what is objectively right or wrong, but only referring to what is considered right or wrong by people
  • In its “normative” sense, morality refers directly to what is right and wrong, regardless of what specific individuals think… It is often challenged by a moral skepticism, in which the unchanging existence of a rigid, universal, objective moral “truth” is rejected…”56

Other: A person’s definition of the ‘Other’ is part of what defines or even constitutes the self and other phenomena and cultural units. It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude ‘Others’ whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society… Othering is imperative to national identities, where practices of admittance and segregation can form and sustain boundaries and national character. Othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain. It often involves the demonization and dehumanization of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilize and exploit these ‘inferior’ others.
De Beauvoir calls the Other the minority, the least favored one and often a woman, when compared to a man… Edward Said applied the feminist notion of the Other to colonized peoples.57

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Endnotes

1. Anon. “Escapism has its price, The artist has his income,” on Non Fides website. [Online] Cited 28/09/2012 www.non-fides.fr/?Escapism-has-its-priceThe-artist
2. Editors note in Lombroso, Cesare, Gibson, Mary and Rafter, Nicole Hahn. “Photographs of Born Criminals,” chapter in Criminal man. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006, p. 203
3. See Maxwell, Anne. Picture Imperfect: Photography and Eugenics, 1870 – 1940. Sussex Academic Press, 2010
“The book looks at eugenics from the standpoint of its most significant cultural data – racial-type photography, investigating the techniques, media forms, and styles of photography used by eugenicists, and relating these to their racial theories and their social policies and goals. It demonstrates how the visual archive was crucially constitutive of eugenic racial science because it helped make many of its concepts appear both intuitive as well as scientifically legitimate.”
4. See Mifflin, Jeffrey. “Visual Archives in Perspective: Enlarging on Historical Medical Photographs,” in The American Archivist Vol. 70, No. 1 Spring/Summer 2007, pp. 32-69 [Online] 17/09/2012.
archivists.metapress.com/content/y62u7r85381173u1/fulltext.pdf (4.2Mb pdf)
5. See Anon. “Disderi Andre Adolphe: Dead Communards,” on History of Art: History of Photography website [Online] Cited 17/09/2012. www.all-art.org/history658_photography13-8.html
6. Anon. “Taxonomy,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 17/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxonomy
7. Mifflin, Jeffrey p. 35
8. Wallis, Brian. “Black Bodies, White Science,” in American Art 9 (Summer 1995), p. 40 quoted in Mifflin, Jeffrey p. 35. He goes on to explain that photographs that once circulated out of family albums, desk drawers, etc., have often been “displaced” to the “unifying context of the art museum.”
9. Long, Brian. Notes on marking of short transgressive essay. 31/10/2010
10. Schwartz, Joan M. “Negotiating the Visual Turn: New Perspectives on Images and Archives,” in American Archivist 67 (Spring/Summer 2004), p. 110 quoted in Mifflin, Jeffrey p. 35
11. Bunyan, Marcus. “Science, Body and Photography,” in Bench Press chapter of Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Melbourne: RMIT University, 2001 [Online] Cited 17/09/2013 www.marcusbunyan.com/ptf/historical.html.
See also Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 85
12. Bunyan, Marcus. “Baron von Gloeden,” in Historical Pressings chapter of Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Melbourne: RMIT University, 2001 [Online] Cited 02/09/2012. www.marcusbunyan.com/ptf/histmain_b.html
13. Smalls, James. The homoerotic photography of Carl Van Vechten: public face, private thoughts. Philadeplhia: Temple University Press, 2006, p.32
14. Rittelmann, Leesa. “Facing Off: Photography, Physiognomy, and National Identity in the Modern German Photobook,” in Radical History Review Issue 106 (Winter 2010), p. 148
15. Ibid., p. 155
16. Long, Rose-Carol Washton. “August Sander’s Portraits of Persecuted Jews,” on the Tate website, 4 April 2013 [Online] Cited 26/10/2013. www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/august-sanders-portraits-persecuted-jews
17. Smail, David. Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, pp. 152-153
18. Manchester, Colin. “Obscenity, Pornography and Art,” on Media & Arts Law Review website [Online] Cited 21/09/2012. www.law.unimelb.edu.au/cmcl/malr/421.pdf (175kb pdf)
19. Hall, Alan. “Famous Hitler photograph declared a fake,” on The Age newspaper website. October 20th, 2010 [Online] Cited 21/09/2012. www.theage.com.au/world/famous-hitler-photograph-declared-a-fake-20101019-16sfv.html
“A historian claims the Nazi Party doctored a photo to drum up support. Allan Hall reports from Berlin.
It is one of the most iconic photographs of all time, the image that showed a monster-in-waiting clamouring with his countrymen for glory in the war meant to end all wars.
Adolf Hitler waving his straw boater with the masses in Munich the day before Germany declared war on France in August 1914 is world famous… and now declared to be a fake.
A prominent historian in Germany says the Nazi Party doctored the image shortly before a pivotal election to show the Fuehrer was a patriot.
Gerd Krumeich, recognised as Germany’s greatest authority on World War I, says he has spent years studying the photo and has come to the conclusion that the man who took it – Heinrich Hoffmann – was also the man who doctored it.
The photograph first appeared on the pages of the German Illustrated Observer on March 12, 1932 – the day before the crucial election of the German president.

“Adolf Hitler, the German patriot is seen in the middle of the crowd. He stands with blazing eyes – Adolf Hitler,” was the breathless caption.
Professor Krumeich found different versions of Hitler as he appeared in the Odeonsplatz photo in the Hoffmann archive held by the Bavarian state. He told a German newspaper:

“The lock of hair over his forehead in some looked different.
“Furthermore, I searched in archives of the same rally and looked at numerous different photos from different angles at the spot where Hitler was supposed to have been. And I cannot find Hitler in any of them.
“It is my judgement that the photo is a falsification.”

Professor Krumeich’s doubt caused curators at the groundbreaking new exhibition in Berlin about the cult of Hitler to insert a notice by the photo saying they could not verify its authenticity.”
20. Anon. “Cultural Hegemony,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_hegemony. See the work of Antonio Gramsci and his theory of cultural hegemony.
21. Anon. “Patriarchy,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy
22. Anon. “Individualism,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualism
23. Anon. “Family values,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_values
“Family values are political and social beliefs that hold the nuclear family to be the essential ethical and moral unit of society.”
24. Anon. “Norm (sociology),” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norm_(sociology)
“Social norms are the behaviours and cues within a society or group. This sociological term has been defined as “the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. These rules may be explicit or implicit. Failure to follow the rules can result in severe punishments, including exclusion from the group.””
25. See Anon. “Morality,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality
26. See Anon. “Ethics,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics
27. Anon. “Part Four: More Legal Issues in Creative Projects,” in How2Where2. Australia Council for the Arts website [Online] Cited 17/09/2012. www.australiacouncil.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/3519/04_legal_issues.pdf (240kb pdf)
28. See Anon. “Shock art,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_art
29. Anon. “More harm in sport than nudes: Henson,” on 9 News website. Posted 02/08/2010. [Online] Cited 22/10/2010. No longer available.
See also AAP. “Stars back controversial photographer Bill Henson,” on News.com.au website. Posted 27/05/2008. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. www.news.com.au/figures-back-child-photos/story-e6frfkp9-1111116458646
A good summary of the events can be found at the Slackbastard blog with attendant links to newspaper articles. Anon. “Bill Henson: Art or pornography?” on Slackbastard blog. Posted 25/08/2010. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.
slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=1174
More recently see Hunt, Nigel. “Bill Henson pulls controversial exhibition at Art Gallery after call from detective to Jay Weatherill,” on The Advertiser website September 18, 2013 [Online] Cited 22/10/2013.
www.adelaidenow.com.au/entertainment/arts/bill-henson-pulls-controversial-exhibition-at-art-gallery-after-call-from-detective-to-jay-weatherill/story-fni6um7a-1226722039572
30. Australia Council for the Arts. “Protocols for working with children in art,” on the Australia Council for the Arts website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.
www.australiacouncil.gov.au/about_us/strategies_2/children_in_art
31. See Anon. “Social Conservatism,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_conservatism
“Social conservatism is a political or moral ideology that believes government and/or society have a role in encouraging or enforcing what they consider traditional values or behaviours… Social conservatives in many countries generally: favor the pro-life position in the abortion controversy; oppose all forms of and wish to ban embryonic stem cell research; oppose both Eugenics (inheritable genetic modification) and human enhancement (Transhumanism) while supporting Bioconservatism; support a traditional definition of marriage as being one man and one woman; view the nuclear family model as society’s foundational unit; oppose expansion of civil marriage and child adoption rights to couples in same-sex relationships; promote public morality and traditional family values; oppose secularism and privatization of religious belief; support the prohibition of drugs, prostitution, premarital sex, non-marital sex and euthanasia; and support the censorship of pornography and what they consider to be obscenity or indecency.”
32. Bunyan, Marcus. “Research notes on George Platt Lynes Photographs from the Collection at the Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana,” in Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Melbourne: RMIT University, 2001 [Online] Cited 02/09/2012. www.marcusbunyan.com/ptf/thesismain_l.html
33. “It seems hard to believe now, in 2009, that many of these images were once considered vulgar and obscene, and a violation of common decency. Even more difficult to wrap our heads around is the fact that people went to jail for merely possessing them, rather than producing them. One thinks of the noted critic Newton Arvin, a professor at Smith College, and lover of Truman Capote’s, who was disgraced when a collection of relatively innocent physique photography was found in his apartment. Today he’d be on Charlie Rose talking about the joys of the art form. We’ve come a long way. But perhaps not far enough. I’m not able to post some of the more explicit images from this book here on my blog without risking its being banished to the adult section of Google’s blog services.”
Peters, Brook. “Renaissance Men,” on An Open Book blog, June 19th 2009. [Online] Cited 05/11/2010. No longer available
34. International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA). “Statistical Indicators for Arts Policy,” on the IFACCA website, Sydney, 2005, p. 7 [Online] Cited 05/11/2010. No longer available
35. Gaut, Berys. Art, emotion and ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Chapter 1 The Long Debate, 2007, p. 7
36. Ibid., p. 11
37. Anon. “Is it art or is it porn?” in The Australian. February 23rd 2008 [Online] Cited 07/09/2012.
www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/is-it-art-or-is-it-porn/story-e6frg8h6-1111115621003
38. Duelund, Peter. “The rationalities of cultural policy: Approach to a critical model of analysing cultural policy,” in Nordic Cultural Institute Papers 2005 [Online] Cited 05/09/2012.
www.nordiskkulturinstitut.dk/foredrag/rationalities_of_cultural_policy.doc (100kb Word doc)
39. Johnson, Denise. “Politics,” on Slide Projector website [Online] Cited 05/11/2010. No longer available
40. Gilchrist, Kate. “God does not live in Victoria,” on ‘Does Blasphemy Exist?’ web page of the Arts Law Centre of Australia Online website [Online] Cited 06/10/2010. No longer available
41. Long, Brian. Notes on marking of short transgressive essay. 31/10/2010
42. Long, Brian. Notes on marking of short transgressive essay. 31/10/2010
43. Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 87
44. Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp. 30-33
45. Anon. “Transgressive Art,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgressive_art
46. Anon. “Subversion,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. /en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subversion
47. Anon. “Blasphemy,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy
48. Anon. “Blasphemy law in Australia,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Australia
49. Anon. “Defamation,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation
50. Anon. “Obscenity,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obscenity
51. Anon. “Freedom of Speech,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech
52. Anon. “Censorship,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship
53. Anon. “Taboo,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taboo
54. Anon. “Topography (disambiguation),” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topography_(disambiguation)
55. Anon. “New Topographics,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Topography
56. Anon. “Morality,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality
57. Anon. “Other,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other

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LIKE ART BLART ON FACBEOOK

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25
Jul
13

Exhibition: ‘Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity’ at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City

Exhibition dates: 9th May – 28th July 2013

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I admit that I went through a stage of disliking Herb Ritts photographs – no longer!
In contemplation, his formal aestheticism obtains a serene beauty – spare, refined, erotic.

Marcus

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Fred with Tires became the archetypal photograph of the male body in the 1980s and made the world-wide reputation of its commercial photographer, Herb Ritts. Gay men flocked to buy it, myself included. I was drawn by the powerful, perfectly sculpted body, the butchness of his job, the dirty trousers, the boots and the body placed within a social context. At the time I realised that the image of this man was a constructed fantasy, ie. not the ‘real’ thing, and this feeling of having been deceived has grown ever since. His hair is teased up and beautifully styled, the grease is applied to his body just so, his body twisted to just the right degree to accentuate the muscles of the stomach and around the pelvis. You can just imagine the stylist standing off camera ready to readjust the hair if necessary, the assistants with their reflectors playing more light onto the body. This/he is the seduction of a marketable homoeroticsm, the selling of an image as sex, almost camp in its overt appeal to gay archetypal stereotypes.

Herb Ritts, whether in his commercial work or in his personal images such as those of the gay bodybuilders Bob Paris and Rod Jackson, has helped increase the acceptance of the openly homoerotic photograph in a wider sphere but this has been possible only with an increased acceptance of homosexual visibility within the general population. 
Openly gay bodies such as that of Australian rugby league star Ian Roberts or American diver Greg Luganis can become heroes and role models to young gay men coming out of the closet for the first time, visible evidence that gay men are everywhere in every walk of life. This is fantastic because young gay men do need gay role models to look up to but the bodies they possess only conform to the one type, that of the muscular mesomorph and this reinforces the ideal of a traditional masculinity. Yes, the guy in the shower next to you might be a poofter, might be queer for heavens sake, but my God what a body he’s got!”

Marcus Bunyan. Historical Pressings,” from Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (Phd thesis) 2001

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Many thankx to Oklahoma City Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Fred with Tires - Bodyshop Series, Hollywood' 1984

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Fred with Tires – Bodyshop Series, Hollywood
1984
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Djimon with Octopus, Hollywood' 1989

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Djimon with Octopus, Hollywood
1989
Gelatin silver print
44.5 x 38.7 cm (17 1/2 x 15 1/4 in.)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Tony with shadow, Los Angeles' 1988

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony with shadow, Los Angeles
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume' 1987

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume
1987
Gelatin silver print
31.9 x 25.4 cm (12 9/16 x 10 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb-Ritts-Versace-Dress,-Back-View,-El-Mirage,-1990-WEB

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage
1990
Gelatin silver print
137.2 x 109.2 cm (54 x 43 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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The American photographer Herb Ritts produced a body of work in the 1980s and 1990s that seems to embody the outdoor lifestyle and glamour of the southern California beautiful set. This photograph, taken at El Mirage Dry Lake in California, appeared on the cover of Italian designer Gianni Versace’s September 1990 catalogue and incorporates a formalism and contemporary sensuality characteristic of Ritts’s aesthetic. Ritts’s photograph appeals through its boldly contrasting lights and darks.

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage' 1990

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage
1990
55.8 x 44.6 cm (21 15/16 x 17 9/16 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Now and Zen 1, El Mirage' 1999

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Now and Zen 1, El Mirage
1999
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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“Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity will be on view at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art from May 9 through July 28, 2013. Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with the support of the Herb Ritts Foundation and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, this exhibition will feature over eighty large-scale black-and-white photographs by acclaimed photographer, Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002). Ranging in scale from intimate portraits to ten foot murals, the exhibition will highlight the diversity of the artist’s work. Known for his innovative approach to fashion, intimate portraiture of celebrities, and the classical treatment of the nude, Ritts emerged in the 1980s to become one of the most successful celebrity and fashion photographers of the late twentieth century and an important part of the history of American photography.

Herb Ritts grew up in Los Angeles and maintained his studio in Hollywood. A self-taught photographer, Ritts first began taking photographs in the late 1970s after studying economics at Bard College. The intimate publicity images that he made of Richard Gere were among his first serious portraits and helped to launch his career. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ritts built his reputation as a leading celebrity portraitist and fashion photographer, contributing regularly to publications such as GQMademoiselleVogue, andVanity Fair. From 1988, he also made music videos and commercials for which he won numerous awards.

The photographs included in the exhibition represent some of Herb Ritts’s most iconic works which incorporate the natural light of the California sun while emphasizing shapes, unusual juxtapositions, and the beauty of the human form. Ritts celebrates nature and the human body in evoking the tactile appeal of surface textures of grains of sand, veiled fabric, drying mud, and cascading water seen in Waterfall 4 (1988), Backflip (1987), and Woman in Sea (1988). Fashion photographs on view include such asVersace Veiled Dress, El Mirage (1990), Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood (1989), and Djimon with Octopus (1989). Examples of celebrity portraiture include Richard Gere, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Depp, Bruce Springsteen, Drew Barrymore, David Bowie, Matthew McConaughey, and Mick Jagger. Also included in the exhibition are poetic and eternal images in Ritts’s Africa series, taken in 1993 when he traveled to East Africa, and examples from the rare Corps et Ames (1999) series of photographs, portraying dancers in motion.

This exhibition – drawn from the photography collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Herb Ritts Foundation – present Herb Ritts’ style and the range of his career.”

Press release from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles' 1987

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles' 1989

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles
1989
Platinum print
46.4 x 38.4 cm (18 1/4 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Backflip, Paradise Cove' 1987

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Backflip, Paradise Cove
1987
Gelatin silver print
90 x 70 in. (228.6 x 177.8 cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Corp et Âmes - 14, Los Angeles' 1999

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Corp et Âmes – 14, Los Angeles
1999
Gelatin silver print
14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 27.9 cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Chrissy Turlington, Versace 3, Milan' 1991

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Chrissy Turlington, Versace 3, Milan
1991
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Madonna (True Blue Profile), Hollywood' 1986

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Madonna (True Blue Profile), Hollywood
1986
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale' 1996

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale
1996
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Loriki with Spear, Africa' 1993

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Loriki with Spear, Africa
1993
Gelatin silver print
45 x 41 in. (114.3 x 104.1 cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Tony Ward' 1986

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony Ward
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Waterfall IV, Hollywood' 1988

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Waterfall IV, Hollywood
1988
Platinum print
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.64 cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Woman in Sea, Hawaii' 1988

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Woman in Sea, Hawaii
1988
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Bill T. Jones VI, Los Angeles' 1995

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Bill T. Jones VI, Los Angeles
1995
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Man with Chain, Los Angeles' 1985

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Man with Chain, Los Angeles
1985
Gelatin silver print
47.8 x 38.4 cm (18 13/16 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am. – 5 pm.
Thursday: 10 am. – 9 pm.
Sunday: noon – 5 pm.
Closed: Monday and Major Holidays

Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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24
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘nude men: from 1800 to the present day’ at the Leopold Museum, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2012 – extended until 4th March 2013

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Martin Ferdinand Quadal. 'Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude' 1787

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Martin Ferdinand Quadal
Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude
1787
© Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

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Joseph-D_sir_Court_Tod_des_Hippolytos-WEB

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Joseph-Désiré Court
Death of Hippolytus
1825
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération

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François-Léon Benouville. 'Achills Zorn' 1847

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François-Léon Benouville
Achills Zorn
1847
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier

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“When we stop and think about it, we all are naked underneath our clothes.”

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(Heinrich Heine, Travel Pictures, 1826)

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A great posting. I used to have a print of Querelle by Andy Warhol on my wall when I was at university in London aged 17 years old – that and We Two Boys Together Clinging by David Hockney. My favourite in this posting is the painting Seated Youth (morning) by Austrian expressionist painter Anton Kolig. Such vivacity, life and colour, perhaps a post-coital glow (was he straight, bisexual, gay? who cares, it is a magnificent painting). There is very little information on Kolig on the web. Upon recommendation by Gustav Klimt and Carl Moll Kolig received a 1912 scholarship for a stay in Paris, where Kolig studied modern painting at the Louvre. He enlisted in the First World War in 1916 and survived, continuing to work in paint, tapestries and mosaic during the postwar years and the 1920s. He received two offers for professorships in Prague and Stuttgart, he opted for the Württemberg Academy in Stuttgart, where he trained a number of important painters later. In addition, his work was also shown internationally at numerous exhibitions. He was persecuted by the Nazis and his art destroyed because it was thought to be “degenerate” art. Kolig, which was essentially apolitical, remained until the fall of 1943 in Stuttgart, where he felt less and less well, however, and eventually returned to Nötsch. On 17 December 1944 Kolig was buried with his family in a bomb attack and seriously injured. Much of his work was destroyed here. He died in 1950.

For more information on the male body in photographic history please see the chapter “Historical Pressings” from my PhD research Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (2001). The chapter examines the history of photographic images of the muscular male body from the Victorian to contemporary era. The pages are not a fully comprehensive guide to the history and context of this complex field, but may offer some insight into its development.

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Many thankx for the Leopold Museum, Vienna for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Anon. 'Anonymous Youth of Magdalensberg' 16th Century casting after Roman Original

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Anon
Anonymous Youth of Magdalensberg
16th Century casting after Roman Original
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Antiquities

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Anon. 'Anonymous standing figure of the court official Snofrunefer Egypt, Old Kingdom, late 5th Dynasty' around 2400 BC

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Anon
Anonymous standing figure of the court official Snofrunefer
Egypt, Old Kingdom, late 5th Dynasty, around 2400 BC
© Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna with MVK and ÖTM, Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection

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Auguste Rodin. 'The Age of Bronze' 1875/76

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Auguste Rodin
The Age of Bronze
1875/76
© Kunsthaus Zurich

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Anton Kolig. 'Seated Youth (morning)' 1919

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Anton Kolig
Seated Youth (morning)
1919
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 406

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“Previous exhibitions on the theme of nudity have mostly been limited to female nudes. With the presentation “naked men” in the autumn of 2012 the Leopold Museum will be showing a long overdue exhibition on the diverse and changing depictions of naked men from 1800 to the present.

Thanks to loans from all over Europe, the exhibition “naked men” will offer an unprecedented overview of the depiction of male nudes. Starting with the period of Enlightenment in the 18th century, the presentation will focus mainly on the time around 1800, on tendencies of Salon Art, as well as on art around 1900 and after 1945. At the same time, the exhibition will also feature important reference works from ancient Egypt, examples of Greek vase painting and works from the Renaissance. Spanning two centuries, the presentation will show different artistic approaches to the subject, competing ideas of the ideal male model as well as changes in the concept of beauty, body image and values.

The exhibition, curated by Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold, traces this theme over a long period and draws a continuous arc from the late 18th century to the present. Altogether, the showing brings together around 300 individual works by nearly 100 female and male artists from Europe and the USA. The objective of the two curators Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold was “to clearly show the differing artistic approaches, competing models of masculinity, the transformation of ideas about the body, beauty and values, the political dimension of the body, and last but not least the breaking of conventions.”

“Over the past few years, portrayals of nude males have achieved a hitherto unseen public presence,” says Elisabeth Leopold. To which Tobias G. Natter adds, “At the same time, this exhibition is our way of reacting to the fact that categories which had previously seemed established, such as ‘masculinity’, ‘body’ and ‘nakedness’, have today become unstable for a broad swath of society.”

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Diversity and abundance: showing for what “nude men” could stand

Elisabeth Leopold remarks that, “In the run-up to our project, we were very surprised to note that some commentators expected a ‘delicate’ exhibition. But in fact, we had no intention of treating the theme in such a way – with reserve, with tact, or in any other way delicately. And we did not understand this topic to be at all delicate in terms of an exhibition on art history somehow requiring a degree of discretion.” A project like nude men would be entirely unthinkable without the experiences and impulses of feminist art as well as cultural history, cultural studies and gender studies. With the exhibition nude men, the Leopold Museum seeks to react to the circumstance that societal categories commonly thought to be firmly established – such as “masculinity”, “body” and “nakedness” – are currently undergoing major changes.

By seizing on these developments, we understand the museum to be an institution which is relevant to today’s society – that is to say, a place for both the present and the future. Tobias G. Natter: “Our objective is to show the diversity and transformation of the portrayal of nude men in light of clearly defined thematic focuses. With fresh curiosity, without traditional scholarly prejudices, and with fascination for an inexhaustibly rich field, we use this exhibition to draw an arc spanning over 200 years which, not least, make a theme of the long shadow cast by the fig leaf.”

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The exhibition

The exhibition traces its theme from the late 18th century to the present day. It has three key historical themes: the classical era and the Age of Enlightenment around 1800, classical modernism around 1900, and post-1945 art. These three themes are introduced by a prologue.

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Prologue

The exhibition’s three focuses are preceded by a prologue. Using five outstanding sculptures from European art history, the prologue illuminates this theme’s long tradition. It runs from the “oldest nude in town” – a larger-than-life freestanding figure from ancient Egypt – and the statue known as the Jüngling vom Magdalensberg to Auguste Rodin and Fritz Wotruba, and on to a display window mannequin which Heimo Zobernig reworked to create a nude self-portrait.

Tobias G. Natter: “The curatorial intention behind prologue was to have the audience stroll through nearly five millennia of Western sculptural art in just a few steps. This is meant both to communicate both the long tradition of such images and to highlight the degree to which nude men were taken for granted to be the foundation of our art. These five thousand years form the exhibition’s outer referential frame. Strictly speaking, the showing begins in earnest with the Age of Enlightenment and the period around 1800.”

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Three out of five characters from the Prologue "naked men"

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Three out of five characters from the Prologue “naked men”

Anon
Freestanding figure of the court official Snofrunefer
c. 2400 B.C.
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

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Auguste Rodin
The Age of Bronze
1875/76
© Kunsthaus Zürich

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Heimo Zobernig
Untitled
2011
© VBK, Vienna, 2012

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Paul Cézanne. 'Seven Bathers' ca. 1900

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Paul Cézanne
Seven Bathers
c. 1900
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel

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Edvard Munch. 'Bathing Men' 1915

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Edvard Munch
Bathing Men
1915
Munch Museum, Oslo
© The Munch Museum/The Munch Ellingsen Group/VBK, Vienna 2012

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Wilhelm von Gloeden. 'Flute Concert' 1905

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Wilhelm von Gloeden
Flute Concert
1905
Verlag Adolph Engel, private collection

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Richard Gerstl. 'Nude Self-portrait with Palette' 1908

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Richard Gerstl
Nude Self-portrait with Palette
1908
© Leopold Museum, Wien

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Egon Schiele. '“Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd) ["Preacher" (Nude with teal shirt)]' 1913

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Egon Schiele
‘”Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd)’ [“Preacher” (Nude with teal shirt)]
1913
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 2365

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Theme 1: Classicism and the Power of Reason

In the 18th century and beginning in France, the emancipation of the bourgeois class and the swan song of the Ancien Régime occasioned a renegotiation of concepts of masculinity with both societal and aesthetic implications. The naked male hero was defined anew as a cultural pattern. It became the embodiment of the new ideals.

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Theme 2: Classical Modernism

A new and independent pictorial world arose in the late 19th century with the casual depiction of naked men bathing in natural, outdoor settings. The various ways in which artists dealt with this topic can be viewed together as a particularly sensitive gauge of societal moods. In the exhibition, the genre is represented with prominent examples by Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Wilhelm von Gloeden, Max Liebermann, Ernst Ludwig

Kirchner and others. Classical modernism’s quest for a new artistic foundation also had its impact on the topics of nakedness and masculinity. But what happened when the painter’s gaze wandered on from the naked other to the naked self? A principle witness with regard to this phenomenon in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna is Egon Schiele. With his taboo-breaking self-reflections, he radicalized artists’ self-understanding in a way that nobody had before him. Elisabeth Leopold: “The shift of the painter’s gaze from the naked opposite to the exposed self gave rise to the nude self-portrait – a shining beacon of modernism.”

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Theme 3: Post-1945 Developments

In light of the abundance of interesting works from which to choose, the exhibition’s third theme comprises three specific focuses. Common to all three is the way in which the political potential of the naked body is explored. The first of these focuses concentrates on the battle fought by women for legal and social equality during the 20th century.

Outstanding examples of the intense way in which feminist artists have dealt with their own bodies as foils for the projection of gender roles can be found in the output of Maria Lassnig and Louise Bourgeois, whose works are included in the exhibition alongside others by younger woman artists. It was pioneers such as Lassnig and Bourgeois who set in motion the process which, today, underlies feminist art’s steadily increasing presence in terms of interpretation, resources, norms, power, and participation in the art business. The second area introduces artistic works that interlock nude self-portraits and the culture of protest, which bears great similarities to feminist criticism – the naked self between normativity and revolt.

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The one issue is the nude self-portrait as a field for experimentation and a phenomenon which questions artistic and societal identities. The other issue has to do with substantive contributions to the gender debate, as well as with artists who take the crisis of obsolete male images as an opportunity to put forth self-defined identities. The third focus, finally, lies in the shift in roles in which the man goes from being the subject to being the object, in fact becoming an erotically charged object – perhaps one of the most fundamental shifts in terms of the forms via which nude men have been portrayed from 1800 to the present. Gay emancipation, in particular, served to radically cast doubt upon normative concepts of masculinity, which it opposed with its own alternative models. In this exhibition, these are represented above all in paintings that feature intimate closeness and male couples.

As the opening of this exhibition neared, a frequently-asked question was that of why the project is being undertaken. Tobias G. Natter’s response: “There are many reasons. But most importantly: because it is overdue.”

Press release from the Leopold Museum website

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Bruce Nauman. 'Untitled (Five Marching Men)' 1985

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Bruce Nauman
Untitled (Five Marching Men)
1985
© Friedrich Christian Flick Collection / VBK Wien 2012

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Gilbert & George. 'Spit Law' 1997

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Gilbert & George
Spit Law
1997
© Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris • Salzburg

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Elmgreen & Dragset. 'Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)' 2009

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Elmgreen & Dragset
Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)
2009
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
© Courtesy Galleri Nocolai Wallner / VBK Wien 2012

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Thomas Ruff. 'nudes vg 02' 2000

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Thomas Ruff
“nudes vg 02”
2000
Ed. 3/5
© Private collection Cofalka, Austria/with the kind support of agpro – austrian gay professionals
© VBK, Wien 2012

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Jean Cocteau. 'Male Couple Illustration for Jean Genet’s Querelle de Brest' 1947

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Jean Cocteau
Male Couple
Illustration for Jean Genet’s ‘Querelle de Brest’

1947
© Private collection © VBK, Wien 2012

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Fillette (Sweeter Version)' 1968, cast 1999

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Louise Bourgeois
Fillette (Sweeter Version)
1968, cast 1999
© Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland © VBK, Wien 2012

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Pierre & Gilles. 'Vive la France [Long live France]' 2006

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Pierre & Gilles
Vive la France [Long live France]
2006
© Private collection, Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

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Andy Warhol. 'Querelle' c. 1982

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Andy Warhol
Querelle
c. 1982
© Privatsammlung/ VBK, Wien 2012

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Leopold Museum
Museums Quartier, Museumsplatz 1
1070 Vienna, Austria

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm
Thursdays: 10am – 9pm
Closed on Tuesdays

Leopolod Museum website

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19
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Bob Mizer: ARTIFACTS’ at Invisible-Exports, New York

Exhibition dates: 14th December 2012 – 27th January 27 2013

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** Warning this posting contains male nudity – oh no! **

There are some appealing but relatively tame photographs from one of the doyens of male physique photography from the 1950s-1970s in this posting. More interesting to me are the photographs that never get published or shown in a gallery. While visiting The Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana as part of my PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male in 2001 I made a list of all the physique photographers present in their collection, as well as annotated notes on the photographs of Baron von Gloeden, George Platt Lynes, male homosexual catalogue photographs, male homosexual photographs and male2male sex photographs. Unfortunately almost nothing of this amazing collection of photographs at The Kinsey has ever been published, mainly I suspect due to the prudish nature of American society.

The physique photographers include artists such as Russ Warner, Al Urban, Lon of New York (who began their careers in the late 1930’s), Bob Mizer (started Athletic Model Guild (AMG) in 1945 and later, on his own, Physique Pictorial), Charles Renslow (started Kris studio in 1954), Bruce of Los Angeles, Douglas: Detroit, Dick Falcon, Melan, Karl Eller and Physique Culture and Early Homosexual Magazines. Read my notes from The Kinsey on these photographers.

Bob Mizer set up AMG in 1945 to photograph male bodybuilders and it is now the oldest male model photography studio in the United States of America. All models in the photographs that I studied were well built, smooth, toned. Lots of outdoor shots! Models are usually quite young (18-22 approx.) Tiny waists and v shaped. For example Image No. 51820. 3 studio portraits of one smooth boy featuring twisted back, arms and torso to great effect. Total V shape. Lots of erotic wrestling photographs from AMG as well.

Although not showing nudes in publications such as Physique Pictorial, private photographs by Bob Mizer heavily feature nudity. Wide use made of projected backdrops – abstracts, leaves, mountains, ships, classical Roman ruins. 4″ x 5″ prints are much better than the 8″ x 10″ enlargements. The Annotations on back of both size images tell of the models jobs and sexual orientation and what they will or will not do sexually if known. It is interesting to note that these annotations are usually the only thing that places the physical bodies in a social context. The studio shots really have no context while the outdoor shots have slightly more context. The annotations helps define the social and sexual structures within which the models circulated.

What surprised me the most in The Kinsey Institute collection were the black and white and colour photographs of the beefcake models with erect penis and having full on male2male sex out in the open. These photographs are never seen, never published or exhibited but these prurient texts provide an important touchstone when trying to understand the more sexually and aesthetically passive work. It is a pity that the viewer cannot make an informed decision on the development of an artist’s oeuvre without immorality raising its ugly head.

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Many thankx to Invisible Exports for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting.

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Bob Mizer. 'John Benninghoff' 1991

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Bob Mizer
John Benninghoff
1991
Vintage color transparency
Cibachrome print
7 x 10.5 inches
Edition of 5
Printed 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Rick Gordon, rooftop studio, Los Angeles' 1972

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Bob Mizer
Rick Gordon, rooftop studio, Los Angeles
1972
Vintage color transparency
Cibachrome print
10.5 x 10.5 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown, Los Angeles' 1972

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Bob Mizer
Unknown, Los Angeles
1972
Vintage color transparency
Cibachrome print
10.5 x 10.5 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. Production still from "Boy Factory", 1969

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Bob Mizer
Production still from “Boy Factory”
1969
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
16 x 20 inches
Edition of 3
Printed in 2012

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“Most widely known as a photographer-filmmaker, independent publisher, and midcentury iconoclast, Bob Mizer (1922-1992) was an erotic auteur and a lyrical chronicler of the pre-Stonewall demimonde. In his meticulously staged idiosyncratic private work, Mizer revealed himself as a conscientious artist of intimacy and depth, a visionary stylist of the male-on-male gaze as it was refracted through a culture suffused with masculine iconography, which yet stymied and redirected the vectors of desire. The objects and photographs here show Mizer to be the progenitor of a new kind of devotional work that honors the kaleidoscopic typology of desire in the final stages of the underground era, while approaching it simultaneously as an improvised and mesmerizing ethnography.

Mizer founded the Athletic Model Guild studio in 1945 when American censorship laws permitted women, but not men, to be photographed partially nude, so long as the result was “artistic” in nature. In 1947 he was wrongly accused of having sex with a minor and subsequently served a year-long prison sentence at a desert work camp in Saugus, California. But his career was catapulted into infamy in 1954 when he was convicted of the unlawful distribution of obscene material through the US mail. The material in question was a series of black and white photographs, taken by Mizer, of young bodybuilders wearing what were known as posing straps – a precursor to the G-string.

Upon his release from prison, he continued working undeterred, founding the groundbreaking magazine Physique Pictorial in 1951, which also debuted the work of artists such as Tom of Finland, Quaintance and many others. Models included future Andy Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro, actors Glenn Corbett, Alan Ladd, Susan Hayward, Victor Mature, and actor-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Throughout his long career he produced a dizzying array of intimate and idiosyncratic imagery, some flattened of explicit content but bathed nevertheless in an unmistakable erotic glow – tributes to the varieties of desire. Although Mizer’s studio was successful, his influence on artists ranging from David Hockney (who moved from England to California in part to seek out Mizer), Robert Mapplethorpe, Francis Bacon, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol and many others is only now beginning to be more widely appreciated.

The works collected in Bob Mizer: ARTIFACTS include a rare selection of staged tableux, images of California subcultures and an intimate collection of objects from various private sessions – preserved by Mizer along with photographs, films, videos and an ever-expanding catalog of props which over time evolved into a haphazard private museum and a natural history of American desire.”

Press release from the Invisible-Exports website

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Bob Mizer. 'Jim Carroll, Los Angeles' c. 1951

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Bob Mizer
Jim Carroll, Los Angeles
c. 1951
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Bill Holland, Los Angeles' c. 1951

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Bob Mizer
Bill Holland, Los Angeles
c. 1951
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Beau Rouge, Los Angeles' c. 1954

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Bob Mizer
Beau Rouge, Los Angeles
c. 1954
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown, Handstand, Santa Monica' 1945

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Bob Mizer
Unknown, Handstand, Santa Monica
1945
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown Woman Lifting, Santa Monica' c. 1951

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Bob Mizer
Unknown Woman Lifting, Santa Monica
c. 1951
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown Woman, Los Angeles' c 1951

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Bob Mizer
Unknown Woman, Los Angeles
c. 1951
Vintage large-format black and white negatives
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown on Platform, Santa Monica' c. 1945

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Bob Mizer
Unknown on Platform, Santa Monica
c. 1945
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Invisible-Exports
14A Orchard Street, Lower East Side
New York City

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm

Invisible-Exports website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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