Photographer Collier Schorr has said, “I want to show the whole temperature of masculinity because—and I can only approach it as a woman—from the outside, masculinity has been depicted in very black-and-white terms.” Accordingly, the artists selected for this exhibition reject such comfortable “black-and-white” imagery. Catherine Opie focuses on the dramatic spectacle of high school football, zeroing in on a tense moment of anticipation just as the players are ready to spring into action, while Brian Jungen sets up a meditative stack of boxes repeating the mesmerizing stare of legendary basketball star, Michael Jordan. Hank Willis Thomas’s photographs deconstruct the ways in which race and sexuality are exploited to brand and market male athletes; and Joe Sola’s video works assume an outsider’s perspective on football, addressing the social exclusivity of competitive athletics through humor and farce. Matthew Barney’s early sculptural work with Vaseline and weight-training equipment, as well as his body-based performance practice, stress the sexual, sometimes abject dimension of athletic training.
Several artists and theorists have argued convincingly that social identities—including race, gender, and sexuality—are performed, coded, and contingent. However, the male athlete has been overlooked by artists, art historians and curators until fairly recently, because it is only in the past decade that a critical mass of art addressing this subject has grown large enough to allow for such an exploration.
Mixed Signals is an expanded version of Contemporary Projects 11: Hard Targets: Masculinity and American Sports, an exhibition organized by Christopher Bedford for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in fall 2008. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with texts by Bedford, Julia Bryan-Wilson and Judith Butler.
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