12 MARCH – 18 APRIL 2015
Opening Reception 12 March 2015 from 6 - 8pm
12 MARCH – 18 APRIL 2015
511 Gallery is pleased to present Of Men, an exhibition of 20th and 21st century artistic representations of men. Though much has been written about the portrayal of women in art, there has been little to no attention paid to how men are shown in art, beyond ritual appearances in portraiture or historical paintings. Of Men includes photographs, paintings, and a single sculpture by various artists including Francis Criss, Bryan Leboeuf, Lucy Levene, Jennifer Odem, Carole Reiff, Larry Rivers, Norman Rockwell, and Rebecca Soderholm.
It is very strange to be in a room full of images of men that is not the office of a university president, investment banking founder, or government official; with Of Men, 511 Gallery presents works made across almost 90 years that show man as father, as worker, that signify maleness as strength, as sexual objecthood, as self and as other. With Of Men we can engage critically with representations of men and maleness in art but also with the absence and/or presence of women in a collection of works that are of men.
Bryan Leboeuf’s oil painting, End Sight (2004), is of a shirtless man who stands over a sink in a dark bathroom, his hands resting on the sink’s edge. The viewer is situated outside the bathroom, looking in through its open door. Light, also from a source outside the bathroom, pours over the man’s back, making clear the contours of his muscular, tensed shoulders and full calves. A mirror above the sink projects a dark reflection of his torso. Where his back seems expansive in the light coming through the open bathroom door, the front of his body is cast in shadows, his torso hunched and his arms elongated as they project towards the mirror. What at first appears to be an appealing portrait of male form as sexual object reveals an animal, bestial side. This remarkable piece by Leboeuf treads the line of portrait and narrative. A shadow on the right-hand edge of the painting seems to suggest another figure behind our line of sight. A woman, perhaps? His lover? The potential narratives are plentiful and largely up to the viewer’s discretion. As viewers we are thus given control over the male form.
Paired with Leboeuf’s End Sight is a photograph by Rebecca Soderholm entitled Couple, Naples, Italy (2013). It pictures a couple entwined in an embrace and kissing. The woman is perched on a seaside rock, and the man is on his feet, facing away from the camera and twisted around towards his lover, such that the curve of his spine recalls the figure in Ingres’ Odalisque. The man wears a Speedo swimsuit that sags down below his waist, exposing the beginning of his buttocks. To his right and staring up at him is a small, plump girl. A stand-in for the viewer and Soderholm herself, this girl becomes the subject of the painting and the man her object. Of course, his lover is to him what he appears to be to us--a sensual object--such that we are reminded of the frequent objectification of woman while being alerted to the agency given the female artist towards changing subject/object relations. Thus the little Neapolitan girl standing, looking up at the man, appears also as a symbol of this agency.
Man’s physical presence is less often made a sexual object than it is used as a symbol of strength. This is exemplified in a trio of works in Of Men. A photograph (ca. 1928) shows Alfred Stieglitz’s gardener, Bly, rowing a guideboat across Lake George. The photographer himself is in the boat focusing his lens from a low position up at Bly, thus capturing in the foreground the man’s large and powerful looking hands on the oars. The slope of Bly’s shoulders merge with the mountain behind him, such that his entire body becomes a symbol of strength and majesty.
Pendant to that photograph is the Norman Rockwell watercolor The County Agent (1948). Painted on commission for The Saturday Evening Post, The County Agent portrays the agricultural agent Herald K. Rippey, crouched on a mound of earth. Rippey leaves his work gloves unused in his back pocket such that his prominent, weathered, sun-browned hands come into direct contact with the soil. The earnestness with which Rippey inspects the soil, and the absence of everything but for Rippey’s figure and the ground he stands on renders the painting a testament to the profound connection between man and land; body and space.
The third artwork in this grouping is Rebecca Soderholm’s photograph, Brad (2013). Taken in the Mohawk Valley, New York, in the wake of a devastating flood, Brad features a large, muscled man in a dirty, short-sleeved, half-open button-down shirt. A gold necklace with a cross lays on his red, weatherbeaten chest. He faces the camera as he tries to reinsert a support pole into the ground, his enormous, beefy hands wrapped around the circumference of the pole. In Brad, male strength, symbolized especially in his hands, is the tool with which he will regain control and reestablish order. Grouped with the vintage photograph and Rockwell’s The County Agent, Soderholm’s Brad provides one possible entry point by which we can consider representations Of Men.
We hope Of Men will further the ongoing discussion of objecthood, subjecthood, and representations of gender in art.
This exhibition will open to the public on Thursday, the 12th of March, with a reception from 6 to 8PM.
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511 Gallery and 511 Projects exhibits and places work in all media made by 15 contemporary artists represented by the gallery. Additionally it has a secondary market practice in art of the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries and a curatorial practice, through which it organizes exhibitions in museums, art centers, and other venues in the U.S. and abroad.
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