Beauty and sexuality seen under a new light

By the late ’80s, more than two decades after the sexual revolution of the ’70s, sexual mores had relaxed and the human body engaged the subject matter of art, particularly in respect to issues such as AIDS, gender and self-identity. Oddly enough, it was at the same time that a retrospective exhibit on American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, scheduled to be held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, was canceled partly on the grounds of the artist’s work being too sexually explicit. In one sense, the controversy raised on account of Mapplethorpe’s work suggests the readiness with which we attach images of the nude to a narrow understanding of sexuality as well as culturally imposed sexual prejudices. It is these kinds of sexual prejudices that the photographs of American photographer Bruce Weber have long sought to remove. His images have been considered as a tribute to the young, male, flawless American beauty and a celebration of homosexuality – so much so that the more subtle interplay of a nude image with sexuality but also the pure beauty of the human body have been overlooked. For one can perhaps make an argument for a certain ambiguity; the almost statuesque bodies of his models are sometimes too perfect to seem carnal, but at the same time they evoke a certain narcissism that ties them down to sexuality. But even if its there, this ambiguity is often overshadowed by our standard classification of his work. An off-site exhibit on the work of Weber and organized by The Apartment gallery now challenges us to rethink another classification; that of Weber’s work in relationship to the world of glamour. Nine photographs of male nudes and the video «Broken Noses,» one of Weber’s film documentaries on boxing and boxers, are shown in a rundown apartment of an otherwise elegant, art deco-style but rather neglected building on Socratous Street, just off Omonia Square. The exhibit’s idea is to juxtapose the slickness and perfect world of Bruce Weber’s images with a rather shabby environment and, by extension, to provide a fresh look into images that have become so tied to the aesthetics of advertisement campaigns so as to seem rather removed. In fact, Weber’s career is closely tied to fashion photography and commercial advertisement. He is the photographer behind Calvin Klein’s campaigns and has also done much work for Ralph Lauren. Weber’s ties with the world of fashion actually go back to the days of his youth in New York when, as a student of photography, he posed as a model for such artists as Art Kane and Saul Leiter. Although Weber’s work is principally tied to print advertisement and fashion, his work is in fact far more wide-ranging. For example, he is the person behind the sensual music video showing Chris Isaak and fashion model Helena Christensen and the «Being Boring» music video of the Pet Shop Boys. But there are also less commercial projects such as «Let’s Get Lost,» an Oscar-nominated documentary on the life of Chet Baker. A certain glamour does, however, permeate all of his projects. In his latest film, «Chop Suey,» a parade of celebrities include Diane Vreeland, Peggy Lee, Twiggy, Robert Mitchum and Lena Horn. Interestingly, the stars are part of an unusual mix of people, unknown to the public. It is perhaps the luster to this glamorous side to Weber’s work that the current off-site project seeks to remove. But for images that have become so sealed with a certain identity, to accomplish this is no doubt harder than one would expect.The exhibit is open to the public only on Fridays. For private viewings and information, tel 010.321.5469.

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