Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins

with 2 comments

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

This is what the fuss is all about.

To my readers: No more posts on LA exhibitions for a while (other than this one and the one to follow); I am now curled up next to a space heater in Chicago, while the rest of you complain about the amazingly hot weather in LA, boohoo.

Admittedly I coerced my best friend to come with me to see these shows (Opie next time) by selling them to him as the “gay shows at LACMA.”  They’re not really “gay” shows, but both have material that might be characterized as homoerotic, and maybe that’s why LACMA curators felt they needed to include the following at the entrance of the Manly Pursuits:

Warning Adult Material. (No joke.)

This begs to question—where!? I don’t see any adult material, unless you mean those paintings and photographs that have naked nude male figures in them.  Is this warning necessary?  Is it there because they’re naked guys? I don’t see labels warning about the naked women elsewhere in the museum.  Where’s the warning sign in the renaissance galleries for that painting of that slut Danae and the golden shower?

Try explaining what a golden shower is to your kids.

Moving on from that unnecessary warning, the always clever exhibition designers at LACMA have come up with inventive signage.  In the entryway a large title banner is hung from a complex rigging of ropes and pulleys.  The didactics in the exhibition are printed on thick canvas (this sailboat not the canvas you paint on), and hung from punctured grommet holes. Very wood shop and very manly I supposed.

Heterosexual exhibition design.

The exhibition is organized into genres of sport: rowing, swimming, hunting and sailing, equestrian, boxing and cycling, and wrestling.  This method is both user-friendly and functionally allowed for smaller and larger spaces.  This is not a full-scale retrospective, but a focused exhibition on one genre of Eakins’s work; this does not mean this is a small show or that it is lacking in works.

The first room, on rowing, had a plentitude of works: completed paintings, preparatory works, and sketches.  Eakins fascination (even obsession) with accurate perspective is evident in these works and the combination of works showcased the artist’s anal-retentive process.

No dick in this pic.

The swimming room is the room that I guess warranted the warning label (maybe also the wrestling room).  There is only one completed oil painting in the room, The Swimming Hole (1884-85), the only Eakins work on the subject matter. The canvas wall text informs that Eakins relied on photographs for this composition; this is obvious since the painting is accompanied in this room by so many photographs.  The photos are of “real” (LACMA’s word choice not mine) naked men, instead of idealized nudes (is that why we need the label?).  All of the photos are preciously small and require close proximity to view them properly.  The photographs come from various places (oh hey a loan from the Getty!) and are labeled as modern inkjets from original glass negatives.  I call them soft-core-porn (kidding, kinda).

Porn so small, you can barely see it.

The main attraction, on loan from the Amon Carter Museum, has chairs placed in front of it (chairs I’m pretty sure came from a conference room inside LACMA).  The wall text also explains that Eakins himself is one of the men in the painting, making this a clusterfuck of viewer-viewed-exhibitionist-voyeur-spectator-participant relationships.  I would like to point out that the finished oil painting has no visible penis in it, so what is the big deal?

Eakins was apparently an avid swimmer, or avid skinny dipper.

I blew through the hunting and sailing room, and the equestrian room, in pursuit of more adult content slash gay porn (still kidding LACMA), which I found in the boxing and cycling room.  This room had more naked photographic studies to satiate my desires (haha) and several large finished works in it including Saltut from the Addison Gallery of American Art (which has been linked to Gerome’s Police Verso which was just in LA), Between Rounds from Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the largest work, Taking the Count from Yale.  Pat on the back for being responsible and looking at where all these loans came from. This room was set with a series of benches arranged as they might be for a spectator sport like boxing (oh yeah that’s the topic of this room).

Art-viewing arena.

On to the wrestling room: This room is organized around LACMA’s The Wrestlers, it is a new acquisition and the central reason why LACMA organized this show.  More chairs from a LACMA conference room were set in this gallery to allow for longer views (also so viewers could get their rocks off) of the works, which include preparatory paintings (one owned by LACMA prior to the acquisition), and more steamy photographs. Damn LACMA I’m all hot and bothered now, all this adult content.

Porn from the permanent collection.

And after I’d already jizzed my pants LACMA really delivered with Tad Beck’s installation Palimpsest.  In a separate room, several works from Beck’s Palimpsest series were displayed, acting in dialogue with Eakins’s work. The subject matter of the male nude (the adult content remember) is not the only similarity Beck explains in an Unframed post.

Palimpsest 1, un(?)arguably homoerotic.

The last room of the exhibition is a reading room.  A really sad little reading room, which had a book on Eakins’s Grafly Album (sexy stuff), some terribly cheap Xeroxed essays, but oh wait, two iPads to read the pseudo-exhibition catalogue on.  This is a big show (in scale and importance), with lots of loans—I can’t believe there isn’t an accompanying exhibition catalogue (is one is in the works?), maybe the organizers didn’t have any funds left for publications.  But they had funds for those iPads…

The unfortunate gift shop and Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape will have to wait for next time.  But believe me the gift shop was UNFORTUNATE and less noteworthy the Opie show did have figures and landscapes (and more gay stuff).

– H.I.

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2 Responses

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  1. I want a magnet of semi-nude male wrestlers for my fridge.

    Jennifer Mefford

    September 29, 2010 at 8:53 AM

  2. A proper amount of shit bestowed. Well done, good sir.

    Woody

    September 29, 2010 at 10:37 AM


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