HERE WE PRESENT ARTWORKS BY WOMEN THAT DIRECTLY ADDRESS GENDER AND SEXUALITY, EXPLORING THE PROBLEM OF A RELATIVELY SIMPLE QUESTION: WOULD WE REACT DIFFERENTLY TO THESE WORKS IF THEY WERE MADE BY A MAN? THEY REVERSE STEREOTYPICAL GENDER ROLES; INSTEAD OF SEEING THE MEN AS OPPRESSORS, THEY BECOME THE SUBJECT OF WOMEN GAZE.
Freud’s Schaulust: the pleasure, always libidinal and sometimes pathological of looking at someone else.
Historically, women have been the primary object of that scrutiny in painters’ studios. The feminist movement long ago pointed out the power of the “male gaze” on the way women perceive themselves and allow themselves to be perceived by men and other women.
To reverse the most basic understanding of the male gaze, one would expect men to be shown as objects, playing up to the simple casts that years of this gaze have bestowed on the female sitter, but here the tables are turned.
The male subject is shown, instead, in the many different ways that women genuinely see men; sometimes as ridiculous, sometimes wonderful; from neutral, detached portraits to ones steeped in obvious desire. Many artists offer up their sitters in attitudes historically reserved for female subjects, as come-hither nudes or odalisques. Others catch them in private moments of sleep or self-love, both literal and figurative.
Berenice Abbott’s Cocteau in Bed With Mask shows the intimate unguardedness of a partner asleep, offering a private view of themselves which they, and many others, will never see. Meanwhile Diane Arbus’s Jack Dracula, the Marked Man is more relaxed and languorous, lying in the grass, covered in tattoos and completely at ease; just like Nan Goldin’s Warren In Bed where he was captured unaware.
Smile is a double-ended cast bronze sculpture from Lynda Benglis of what first looks like a smile, then a boomerang, and then – up close – it is a penis, with a head at both ends, feeling like a reminiscence of A Clockwork Orange’s break-in scene.
Male pleasure and sexuality are beautifully captured in Cecily Brown’s Raspberry Beret, which sees Prince naked with his arm behind his head in a melange of oranges, blacks, whites and grays.
Freakishness also comes into play, as in Dana Schutz’s Frank as a Proboscis Monkey: man returned to his wild setting, with long hair and beard, at one with nature. Yet somehow, he’s not the strapping caveman we might expect.
There is more playfulness in Kathe Burkhart’s Whore: From The Liz Taylor Series (The Only Game In Town), in which an Elizabeth Taylor-like figure entertains a hot young stud.
Away from the conventional artworks are inventive conceptual pieces: Tracey Emin’s Is This a Joke is a blanket with an embroidered couple on top of one another; Jenny Holzer’s white marble footstool bears the legend “Men Don’t Protect You Anymore”, while Cindy Sherman’s Untitled photograph shows a muscle man with black leather gloves, his head perversely screwed around, and hair sprouting everywhere.
All these artists show the plurality of masculinities as seen by women: the nonchalant, the literal, the questioning, the swagger, the sweetness, the mysterious, all are here – examined, analyzed, and sometimes, refreshingly, played with and reconfigured.