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

Catherine Murphy (1946 -) PROFILE- HARRY ROSEMAN 1994 Oil on canvas 45 x 41 inches 114.3 x 104.1 centimetres. Courtesy Peter Freeman, Inc., New York
Kathe Burkhart WHORE: FROM THE LIZ TAYLOR SERIES (THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN) 2013 Acrylic, fabric, composition leaf, condom, fake pearls and gems, decorative papers and digital prints on canvas 58 x 78 inches 147.3 x 198.1 centimetres. Courtesy the artist
Katy Grannan ANONYMOUS, MODESTO, CA 2014 Archival Pigment print on cotton rag paper mounted to Plexiglass 55 x 41 inches 139.7 x 104.1 centimetres. Courtesy Salon 94, New York
Berenice Abbott (1898 – 1991) COCTEAU IN BED WITH MASK, PARIS 1927 Gelatin silver print; printed later 10 1/2 x 13 1/2 inches 26.7 x 34.3 centimeters
Diane Arbus (1923 – 1971) Jack Dracula, the Marked Man 1961 Vintage gelatin silver print 11 x 14 inches 27.9 x 35.6 centimetres. Courtesy The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC
Dana Schutz FRANK AS A PROBOSCIS MONKEY 2002 Oil on canvas 36 x 32 inches 91.4 x 81.3 centimeters. Courtesy Petzel Gallery
Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010) MALE FIGURE 2009 Gouache and colored pencil on paper 23 1/2 x 18 inches 59.7 x 45.7 centimetres. ©The Easton Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, NY.
Cecily Brown RASPBERRY BERET 2015-16 Oil and pastel on linen 43 x 65 inches 109.2 x 165.1 centimetres. Courtesy of the artist and Maccarone New York/Los Angeles
Nicole Wittenberg RED HANDED, AGAIN 2014 Oil on canvas 36 x 48 inches 91.4 x 121.9 centimetres. Courtesy the artist
Alice Neel (1900 – 1984) DAVID SOKOLA 1973 Oil on canvas 48 x 44 x 3/4 inches 121.9 x 111.8 x 1.9 centimetres. © The Estate of Alice Neel Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
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