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.

McGreevey Dirty Laundry Hung Out to Dry [tr]


  1. Jonathon says

    There was an easier solution. All that the gallery needed to do was post a notice at the door that told visitors that some of the art contained explicit images. That way the parents can decide for themselves if they want their children to view the exhibition.

    Why are straight people so afraid of seeing a man’s penis? How do they think that their children were conceived? Do straight men not have penises? Sheesh!

  2. says

    The worst part is people hadn’t even complained. It was deciding in advance to avoid any hint of controversy. The elevator shot in particular reveals it’s not just explicit imagery, it’s any bit of gayness, even that which would be hard for any kid (or most adults!) to discern, that was construed to be dangerous. Pathetic.

  3. manpop says

    shame on the gallery. none of the censored images were hardcore. no erections, no sex. since when is a flacid penis pornography? and why would a parent bring children into an exhibition of “gay” art and not be prepared that they may see male nudity? art galleries who are squeamish about showing nudity, and don’t hesitate to censor their own artists… kiss your reputation goodbye.

  4. says

    This attitude baffles me. Europe is rife with nudity in art, and there’s certainly not a higher incidence of “depravity” there than here. Way more civilized, if you ask me. But, then again, this is the country where “Lady Justice” had to wear a bra because the attorney general was squeamish about her naked breasts …

  5. Rascal says

    I am not condoning what the gallery did, and I agree that regressive, repressive American puritanism is all-too alive and well, but for anyone who has never been to Powerhouse Arena, you should understand that it is a big, wide-open, multifunctional venue that includes a bookstore, lounging areas, presentation and performance space. Particularly on spring weekends during neighborhod events (such as this past weekend’s Brooklyn Designs), it is a magnet for families with young children. I live in the neighborhood and know the vibe very well, and I assure you that if a similar exhibition were of women, the same issues would have been raised. It has nothing to do with orientation or gender. It has to do with creating child-friendly space, and respecting a parent’s right to evolve their child’s perceptions as they see fit.

  6. Charles says

    I went to the show last week, and I saw children in the gallery-Rascal is right, it’s a big space and I think you could actually have avoided the show if you wanted to-it doesnt take up much space in the gallery and the more explicit stuff seems to be in the back-off the top of my head, there wasnt even that much explicit stuff in the first place-I thought the show was boring. I agree that the best idea would have been to just post a sign at the door and let individual parents make up their own mind. But you could go to Powerhouse and just check out some books and not even look at the show.

  7. nycredneck says

    i seriously don’t know wtf is the issue with the elevator?!?! should Master art, like The David or any shirtless hot guy painted in the 1700s be censored too? Does the Met take stuff down if there is a “family event?”

    wtf? Really shows how yuppies with kids quickly ruin a neighborhood. In 10 years there won’t be any gays left in chelsea and DUMBO will be more annoying than williamsburg.

  8. anon says

    I don’t think the two images above were among those taken down. The sign also says the pics are going back up on the 14th.

    The one on the left. Is that supposed to be a chicken holding a chicken?

  9. manpop says

    no, sorry. this is not about yuppies with kids. i’m a partnered gay man with a 7 year old son. i would not expect a gallery to take work down. i am responsible for what i expose my son to– not Big Brother and not the gallery curator. there is many ways for that gallery to have put enough barriers and gatekeepers so that parents and children don’t accidently stumble across a flacid penis. Parental Guidence Suggested. it’s not the fault of the parents who may or may not complain but the gallery who opted for censoring.

  10. Adam says

    Dumbo was orginally more annoying then Williamsburg. It had gotten too yuppie and expensive for any artists to live there and they all moved to Williamsburg and Bushwick. Williamsburg was really great for a while but now its pretty much turning into Hoboken, lots of rich fratty college kids and older yuppies. Now lots of artists are moving to Bed Sty or just leaving the city entirely.

  11. Charles says

    Ive never understood the emphasis on artists and their ability to live in NYC-what about teachers, social workers, secretaries, nurses etc., as well? It always seems like artists move into a neighborhood and basically prep it for imminent takeover by the monied classes that they make their art for. And then move on and do the same thing in the next neighborhood out. There should be some thought given to making neighborhoods welcome to working people as well as artists, but the media and NYC government seems to really emphasize artists.

    Sorry about the rant, I have been thinking this for a while and Adam’s post made it come out.

  12. says

    Banning and censorship are a sure fire way to beef up attendance or sales.

    Plus, sometimes gay people have this tendency to censor themsleves because it makes them feel more accepted. Like, if they pre-empt the conservative backlash then maybe conservatives will stop being so intolerant.

  13. mark m says

    Two weeks ago, I attended an art show in my city’s municipal park. It was open to the public and there were many children in attendance.

    My booth was next to a photographer who’s subject matter featured parts of the female anatomy photographed to look like geography. Not terribly original, but some photos were undeniably explicit.

    Some folks giggled but no one objected or protested. And I live in the Deep Conservative South. This happened in New York? Go figure.

  14. Adam says

    People emphasize artists because they believe we add a lot to the city by making it a cultural center and I agree with that. That’s not to say that the other people you mentioned are also not important in the city, they definitely are, and most artists I know are very concerned about them also not being able to afford to live in the city.
    NYC is extremely expensive and artists have a particular predicament in trying to find places that can live and work in. As an oil painter I had a nightmare finding housing/studio space in the city. I don’t think its fair to blame artists for the gentrification that happens as a result of them moving into neighborhood. It’s worth remember that after the gentrification artists can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods they helped make so popular either.

  15. dcmarty says

    Even the pic on the left is nbd! When’s the last time anyone there bought a Thanksgiving turkey? Unless they were stupid enough to cook it with the gizzards inside, they stuck their hand up its ass just like the guy in the pic is doing. Sorry, because it’s a rooster and its head is on somehow makes it inappropriate for children????? Then those prudes better keep the children out of the kitchen come this November!!

  16. gwyneth cornrow says

    this makes powerhouse seem incredibly lame. i can’t believe they took down some images because a fucking design fair asked them to. And who the fuck cares what someone’s kids think about it. Are they buying the fucking work?

  17. popsiclepeter says

    I was in a show last year in Milwaukee exhibiting pieces I had made from gay porn mags stitched together. These works were exhibited towards the back of the gallery, some in what would be called a “project room” in NY. On the entrance door to the gallery, a sign was taped warning people, parents, and whomever, that sexually explicit works were included in the show. I watched as a mother and her three little kids, accompanied by grandma, walked by the entrance and stood reading the sign. Grandma and the kids walked on and Mom came in scouted out the show, then left the gallery, and returned with her children and grandma and took in the exhibition.

    Should the public have the right to decide for themselves what they want to see, or should it be decided for them? I guess that is the major issue in censorship, also, are we looking out for the public’s good or trying to look good in public?

  18. Daniel Power says

    Thanks for the comments about our show. The elevator guy was not taken down, nor were several pieces with flaccid states (to wit Czanara); just Bruce La Bruce’s butt-fucking piece, Ryan McGinley’s cat-fucking piece by McGinley, and Brian Kinney’s drawings with sizable genitalia. I agree the entire show is rather benign, perhaps too much so, but the show is Nick’s, and the commitment we made to Bklyn Designs predated the show’s conception. I wanted black shrouds, Nick wanted removal and a statement, so we stood behind that. When we had Santa for a kid’s event in December, we covered Arlene Gottfried’s sex club pics in gold eyelash curtains. They were Santa’s backdrop, and no one knew.

  19. says

    What do children have to do with design fairs, and why do they trump everyone else? And what kind of commitment was made to the Brooklyn Design Fair prior to the show’s conception? “We promise not to show anything racy at our space while you have your Sesame Street gathering down the block”. If such commitments were made prior to the conception of the show, and powerHouse has concerns about upsetting its neighborhood parents (who obviously don’t seem to care), then there should have been more careful planning. What really gets me is that the Design Fair wasn’t even at powerHouse Arena.

  20. Daniel Power says

    Yes, Male, our show was part of the Design Fair: the exhibition of award-winning furniture prototypes and a book reading and discussion, both part of the fair, were hosted in our space. The Annex booth exhibition, which used to be in our pre-space, was moved this year to 81 Front, a new empty 2 Trees space. The commitment we made to BDF was simple: you can use our space for what you need in exchange for us being part of the programming. It brought in over 1500 people into our space that weekend, the most ever. And they purchased a lot of the stationary and books we stock in the hope someone will buy, so we can do things like do more shows like Male Gaze, which was the only exhibit we ever mounted which actually drew no consumers whatsoever. Graffiti and urban art draw audiences that buy books and mags and other cultural products; so far new gay art audiences do not. And that is the crime here. Support what you like. P.S. apologies for ref to Czanara above; the piece is by Ray Carrance, whose work is very close to but 4 decades later than Czanara.

  21. james says

    Dear sir i have a collection of dave martin/ pat milo pictures app. ( 1200 )
    i’am very ignorant as to wether these are considered gay works of art or just plain works of art can you help me out???and is there a market for these pics.
    thank you

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