Following on from 2009’s Women Look at Women, a new show at New York’s Cheim & Read explores the reversed male gaze, featuring the work of thirty-two female artists and their depictions of men.
The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men shows its subjects as a decidedly funny bunch; lumpy in areas, dead-eyed in others, sleepy, powerful, lost. To reverse the most basic understanding of the male gaze, one would expect these men to be shown as objects, playing up to the simple casts that years of this gaze have bestowed on the female sitter. But this is a far more complex selection.
The male subject is shown, instead, in the many different ways that women genuinely see men; sometimes as ridiculous, sometimes wonderful. 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.
Intimacy and privacy are addressed in far-reaching ways. The nude form is explored in Louise Bourgeois’s Male Figure, in which the inherent vulnerability of nudity is juxtaposed with the, literal, hardness of the male body. The soft, watery, pink-inkiness of the surrounding body gives way to a blood red protrusion, from which it’s very difficult to look away. The biological difference is unavoidable. A threatening double-ended Smile from Lynda Benglis is about as violent as it gets—it feels horribly reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange’s break-in scene.
But there are alternate images too, that pull the viewer away from a belief that gender roles are fully biological. Male nudity is treated, in places, as a play on typical female nudity. Subjects lie of their fronts invitingly, or on their backs with their legs wide open. Here, men of course appear more vulnerable. It is not the body, nor the person themselves that dictate their sense of power, but rather, the position they find themselves taking.
Freakishness also comes into play, as in Dana Schutz’s Frank as a Proboscis Monkey. Subject to the artist’s characteristic mutilation, ‘Frank’ is repulsive, small and also a little adorable. 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.
‘The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men’, is showing at Cheim & Read until September 2