For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2003

Male Artists Picture Men’s Bodies

Through August 24, 2003
Works on Paper

Hyman Warsager, Sea Wall
Hyman Warsager
American, born 1909
Sea Wall
Gift of the U.S. Government, W.P.A. Federal Art Project, 1943.143

Pictured bodies convey a multitude of impressions: strength, heroism, power, camaraderie, awkwardness, sensuality, humor, and loss. Using works on paper from the Museum's collection, this exhibition investigates how male artists from Western European traditions have represented the bodies of men and how strategies they have employed affect the ways bodies (pictured and otherwise) are understood.

From the Renaissance through the nineteenth century, artists like Hendrik Glotzius and James Anderson made depictions of well-known Greek and Roman sculptures widely available in the form of prints and photographs. More recently, artists such as Clarence Laughlin and Ralph Gibson have continued this interest in looking at ancient sculpture. In picturing Roman torsos, these artists represent fragmented bodies. Laughlin's work is dramatically lit and unevenly focused, while Gibson crops the figure and bathes it in a diffuse light. Both artists emphasize the marked, pitted, and textured surface of the marble, inviting a consideration not primarily of the sculpture's musculature, but of its “skin.” Such works are more intimate than the earlier images; they bring the viewer closer to the sculptures and play with the readability of the stone bodies.

Men’s bodies have also been a key element within art education practices. Through pedagogical techniques that required students (primarily male) to study ancient art and the male model, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, also known as the Academy, defined Western European representational strategies for the human figure. The masculine origins of these educational practices are evident in the work of twentieth-century artists like Ivon Hitchens, Gerhard Marcks, and Isamu Noguchi. The male figures they represent are compositionally isolated, referencing studio models in their poses, bodily emphasis, and the artists’ choice of simple, straightforward media.

Bathing scenes provide another unusually rich occasion for exploring men’s bodies. When exclusively male, such settings are an arena for competition and masculine display. Escape, relaxation, camaraderie, and other forms of social activity are also evident when pictured bodies are in close proximity, compositionally united, or awkwardly oppositional. Whether pictured as an outdoor activity, a complex display of physical prowess, or in private spaces, bathing scenes provide an easy social setting for the contemplation of men’s bodies.

Institutional, personal, private, social or flaunted, men’s bodies are potent raw material for male artists. Using strategies to represent bodies as, for example, muscled or slender, roughly hewn or softly defined, artists explore notions of self, community, culture, and tradition. The body thus retains—separate from its physical manifestation—an extremely forceful symbolic life.

Ann Sinfield
Assistant Registrar