In the current exhibition The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at The Painted Bride Art Center, InLiquid artists were invited to share work addressing masculinity. The title, taken from Sergio Leone’s 1966 Western film, delineates the three camps of its theme: the “good” part admittedly seems a tad propagandist, while the “bad” and the “ugly” occupy more familiar zones that benefit from greater detail and nuance.
What fundamental good is there in men-focused masculinity? Is it anything beyond the protective instinct—which isn’t exclusively masculine anyway—to fight off wild predators? Or lift more weight? I am a pretty small person who’d fail the “slays wild beasts” part of that test. Even so, we are learning to scrutinize beyond the one kind of hyper-masculine, herded-frat-boy, left-brain-dominant type. There is a degree of toxic masculinity that has become the norm, has been woven into the culture (not the exception) and surprisingly, likes to bake cakes and read Proust too. The latter detail is what many are discovering to be a kind of false epiphany. What one group is shocked to find out, another has had to deal with for the history of the species in a chamber of relative silence. We continue making dramatic displays of long-hidden truths while having to come to terms with the fact that we are too late. By curating a show about masculinity, I was hoping to provide an outlet for this critical atmosphere and to invite other inspections, aesthetics, and imaginations of masculinity, including any honest celebrations of its better nature.
When asked to submit to a show about masculinity, what resulted were works that conveyed inevitable disappointment and pain, managed to be intermittently funny (though rarely elating), and were occasionally aspirational. It is a show about an ever-expanding history of subjects and relationships that we have seen reproduced over and over. It feels most capable in the moments where the work immerses us in its nuance: the alluringly grotesque contortions in Matthew Courtney’s casts, the subtlety of color in Kitty Caparella’s painting of firearms, the quirky partnering of dead-pan rendering with physical vulnerability in Branko Jakominich’s drawings of tenderly loving naked men. These kinds of approaches pose a greater challenge to the accepted scripts of masculinity, which, at their most conventional, thrive from control, uniformity, and emotional suppression.
Family, the body, the gaze, sports, weapons, sex, the house, food, security, symbolic lineages, visual systems, animal life, the surface of the earth, and the text of our surroundings: these are some of the particular subject matter in the artists’ works which we are encouraged to consider within the framework.
I am moved by each of the artists’ efforts in this show, and hope each artist’s contribution could be explored in greater depth, and that the group could grow to include hundreds of more participants. There is no prescriptive way for a creative medium to shake up masculinity; its strength is in its unpredictable channeling of perception. Art’s capacity for empathy and its ability to represent vulnerability perhaps are two of its most significant avenues for disrupting stale and destructive social attitudes. Its effect is unpredictable, uncertain, and always rippling.