BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! : an exhibition review with a contemporary queer mindset

“BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! is not supposed to be super-smart or clever.” so goes the exhibition pamphlet of BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! at Ravenstijn Gallery, Amsterdam.

the exhibition is in simple words a collection of gay portraits at the border between photo-art and pin-up queer photography. some of the featured works are extremely powerful.

a remarkable series, the Cumfaces by Stuart Stanford, is intimate, attractive and repulsive at the same time. the title is self-explanatory and the three selected works are very strong statements, capturing the expressions of the models in the moment of bliss coinciding with the ejaculation. the intimate nature of the action clashes with the setting in the public space, in an attempt to dissociate the act from its culture-specific shamefulness. 

some other works were very aesthetic, with smart use of colours or with nods to the drag and trans community. for instance, RED by Iakovos, a series naked portraits of tasteful nudes in red, is one of the series which steps up from the rest of the exhibition, giving a clear, visual, contemporary photography vibe. instead, Legs for Days by Tyler Udall, a decadent composition in interiors with a man in half-drag, is, per se, a clear, if somewhat edulcorated, reference to the drag community and the New York ball scene’s slang. Pasa by Sarp Kerem Yuaz, a portrait of an static man with colourful patterns being beamed on his body, is maybe one of the exhibition’s most contemplative works, hinting at an inner search for the self.

by these premises, one can see how the exhibition is showcasing male nudity for the pleasure of the observer. this can also be read as a critique of the traditional role of female portraiture in European art history. in fact, it is interesting to see how the objectification of the male body is close to absent in art museums, and exhibitions such as these help in understanding the unequal treatment that female and male bodies received throughout history. such an example can be made of the featured artwork Odalisque, by Luke Smithers, which, while very literal, is also effective in reproducing the pose and setting of the Great Odalisque by Ingres, but with a male subject.

whereas the exhibition should be praised for creating a critical counterweight to the objectification of the female body in arts, it is astonishing to see so little diversity in a 2019 exhibition. the subjects in the portraits are all rigorously white, they are all of the tribes of twinks or otters with a similar body-type and are all handsome in the western standard of the term. in fact, body-positive messages are the great absent of the exhibition. from a gay, white young man perspective as of the writer, this appears to me as very distorted representation of the LGBT community in an exhibition. in fact, the owner of Little Black Gallery, which hosted the exhibition first in London, Ghislain Pascal is cautious in defining this an LGBT exhibition (also given the complete absence of lesbian community) and defines it “Gay and Queer.” 

imagine being a gay man of different heritage and being confronted, in this exhibition, with the emanation of the paradoxical nature of the contemporary gay commmunity: a discriminated community which up to today is still discriminating on aesthetic and racial bases. to be sure, this kind of discrimination is not a LGBT prerogative, but it is enough to sign up for Grindr, PlanetRomeo, Tinder etc. to find in few clicks a profile with a “no fats” or “no fems” or “no asians.” however, this is obviously part of a larger topic of discrimination within the LGBT community, which one can explore by following the links below.

notwithstanding its self-declared superficiality, the exhibition is able to touch on some interesting subjects such as sexual freedom and the objectification of female and male bodies. nonetheless, the visual appeal of some of the featured series is undeniable and self-evident. however, besides featuring pin-up/art queer photography, a topic which has been researched in-depth for some time time now, and thus a bit dated, the exhibition has some aspects indeed superficially dealt with, such as body positivity and representation of minorities. 

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