Xtra!

Number 524, Nov 25, 2004

Big Gay Art Show

But is Bigger Always Better?

In what is likely the gayest thing to appear at Hart house since higher-ups put an end to bathroom sex, the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery presents a big, gay art show called Le Corps Gay/The Gay Body. Initially exhibited at Centre d'exposition du Vieux Palais, in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, The Gay Body is an exhibition featuring the work of 22 artists from Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City.

According to the Montreal-based curator, Karl-Gilbert Murray, “the main objective of The Gay Body is to demonstrate how the sexuality of gay men is manifested in contemporary art.” In other words, it is a big, gay art show. The problem with trying to cover so much ground is knowing where to start or finish. With so many artists having so many different things to say, pulling together a coherent collection of work is a tricky endeavour. But maybe that is not the point. Murray says, “this exhibition is intended to help demystify the strategies used to identify and recognize the gay body in visual representations.” In other words, it is a big, gay art show. Getting the picture?

When Murray talks about his intentions and says, “to exhibit the gay body…recognizes and promotes awareness of a certain form of sensibility specific to gay artists,” why should we believe him? Is there really such a sensibility artists share just because they are gay? It seems too reductive to suggest with any authority that they do. The further along the catalogue essay goes, the more confusing it gets. I feel like something has been lost in translation. Or maybe I am just annoyed because I never got asked to put work in the show.

The Gay Body is loosely broken up into four thematic groups. Where one group ends and another begins is unclear, but there are handy text panels to help viewers along. The Masked Body: the Transvestite, the Cowboy and the Leather Man; The Performed Body: Daily Acts and Practices; The Suffering Body: HIV-AIDS; and The Exhibited Body: the Masculine as Signified are the categories Murray felt were useful to describe recurring themes. Each section could be a whole show on its own. However, since they are not, the exhibition reads as a survey.

Overall, there are enough well-known artists in The Gay Body to catch people’s attention and get them to the gallery. A few highlights include works by Hamish Buchanan, Matthew Dayler, Evergon, and Angela Grossman. Buchanan exhibits a selection of photographs from his Veiled Men series. These photos, as their title suggests, are of men wearing assorted veils (of the non-bridal variety.) The men appear in states that resemble something like sleep or catatonia. They look exhausted, mournful and alone. Despite their sadness, the photographs are a pleasure to look at. One of the nice things about this group of photos is just that, they are a group. Together they have more weight and context than many of the single works throughout the gallery.

Matthew Dayler exhibits two works, that at first glance appear to be large scale photocopies. The pieces are not photocopies at all, but rather are pen and ink drawings of a rotund, naked man wearing a feather boa and blindfold. Dayler’s drawings are a welcome contrast to the imagery of hard, idealized bodies that many artists in The Gay Body play with. This man, referred to as David 1 and 2, appears blissful and at ease as though he were alone. His head tilts back while his belly and erection jut forward. His contentedness is envy-inducing.

One of the more humorous parts of The Gay Body is an installation piece, Gunfight at the Ok Corral, by Montreal’s Evergon. Gunfight is comprised of several pairs of cowboy boots with underwear around their ankles. The boots are arranged circle jerk style, with a piece of bread in the centre. Gunfight evokes wonderfully pornographic imagery without even showing the viewer a body. While standing near the boots it is surprisingly easy to imagine a group of men racing toward orgasm, hoping to not be the last one stuck eating the bread. Anyone hungry?

Son of Man, by Vancouver’s Angela Grossman is one of few works in The Gay Body made by a woman. Her oil on mylar painting of two men is quiet and sensual. One of the nice things about Son of Man is its ambiguity. Rather than offering answers, the work seems to pose questions. The nature of the relationship between the two men, aside from horizontal and vertical positions, is unclear. It is equally reasonable to assume the figures are lovers, as it is to assume they are father and son. Nothing much is really happening in the painting, but that seems to be the point, to take in the moment.

Whenever so many artists are involved in an exhibition, picking out similarities seems arduous. As The Gay Body itself shows, intentionally or not, just because a group of artists are gay does not mean they share the same concerns. Unfortunately for the show as a whole, much of the work in The Gay Body seems to be floating anchorless. The singular works, exciting or not, often lack dialogue with other pieces that strengthen and encourage their artistic language. Instead of selecting fewer artists, and concentrating the focus of the exhibition, The Gay Body seems jumbled. But then again, no one asked me.

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Le Corps gay/The Gay Body

Artists include:
Claude Bibeau, Hamish Buchanan, Kevin Crombie, Matthew Dayler, Éditions productiongray, Evergon, Andy Fabo, Yvon Goulet, Angela Grossmann, Anne-Marie Labelle, Paul Lacroix, Robert Laliberté, Marcus Leatherdale, Attila Richard Lukacs, Martial, André Martin, Yannick Pouliot, Carlos Quiroz, David Rasmus, Gabriel Routhier, Daniel Saint-Aubin and Johannes Zits.

Justina M. Barnicke Gallery
Hart House-University of Toronto
7 Hart House Circle

Thurs, Nov. 11-Thurs, Dec. 9, 2004.

Mon-Fri: 11AM – 7PM
Sat-Sun: 1- 4PM

www.utoronto.ca/gallery