The Male Gaze: Pornography or Art?


“The Male Gaze”, the new group show of gay male art up at powerHouse Arena in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn, was recently given feature treatment in the New York Times as they lauded the entrance of a renewed gay aesthetic in the art world.

The images aren’t proper for every gaze, however, according to the organizers of the Brooklyn Design Fair, which happened over the weekend. They requested that the gallery take down certain provocative images they didn’t want children, who might be accompanying their parents to the design fair, to stumble upon.

SignA tipster sent us this photo of the list of artworks temporarily taken down by the gallery, along with this note:

“I asked one of the women at the cash register about the sign, and they said that they were expecting the fair would bring in customers with children, and that there was a concern that the work was too explicit. (Why a Design Fair specifically, and not just normal DUMBO traffic—would bring in children, is beyond me.) Three of the photographs removed were by Ryan McGinley—who had his own profile in the New York Times published the same day as Guy Trebay’s ‘Male Gaze’ article. The fact that powerHouse chose to remove this work seems to suggest that they think the work is pornography, not art.

…There’s a certain ironic poetry that this self-censorship occurred at a show that has been billed as symbolic of a larger, prideful movement (or moment) in gay art. For it to happen at a company that’s known for publishing smart, alternative gay art books makes it even more disappointing. I can’t help but feel that this action seriously undermines the institution’s credibility, and highlights the rather unfortunate effects of gentrification on gay speech and sexuality.”

Are the gallery’s actions indicative of a broader double standard in our culture when it comes to sexually-charged male imagery? Does a photographer (McGinley) who has been the subject of a solo show at the Whitney Museum deserve removal from a gallery’s walls on the chance that a parent and child might stumble upon them? Was it shameful or responsible of the gallery to censor part of its exhibition to appease a current segment of the public?

Two of the less explicit images on the list (above), by Brian Kenny and Ryan McGinley, respectively, are at the top of this post. Others can be found at the powerHouse site. “The Male Gaze” continues through May 27th.

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