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Wesleyan University's Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery presents Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports
Marco Rios, Moving Equilibrium (Level Sculpture), 2006. MDF, aluminum, glass, wood, plexiglass, enamel, water, 7 ¼ x 13 ¼ x 96 in. (18.4 x 33.7 x 243.8 cm). Collection of Eileen Harris Norton, Santa Monica.

MIDDLETOWN, CT.- Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports, a traveling exhibition of works by contemporary artists that probes the stereotype of the American male athlete organized by Independent Curators International is on view in Wesleyan University’s Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, located at 283 Washington Terrace on the Wesleyan campus in Middletown, through Sunday, October 23, 2011.

There will also be a screening of two films by Matthew Barney, one of the featured artists in the Mixed Signals exhibit, on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 7:30pm in the Powell Family Cinema, located in the Center for Film Studies, 301 Washington Terrace on the Wesleyan campus in Middletown. Admission to the film screening is free. See below for more information.

The artistic theme of Mixed Signals has become increasingly prevalent during the past several years, building upon several decades of discourse about identity andgender. Including artists ranging from such well-known individuals as Matthew Barney, Catherine Opie, Collier Schorr, and Sam Taylor-Wood to emerging talents such as Shaun El C. Leonardo and Joe Sola, the exhibition demonstrates that the male athlete is a far more ambiguous, polyvalent figure in our collective cultural imagination than ever before.

Using elements of wit, sarcasm, and controversy, theartists challenge cultural assumptions that gender is natural or innate. Instead, they emphasize the many ways masculinity is performed, coded, and socially constructed, perhaps even more so in the spectacular, media-saturated field of sports.

Rituals of male bonding typical to various different sports are explored elsewhere in Mixed Signals. These “homosocial behaviors” (non-sexual expressions of affection and desire, sometimes accompanied by violence) within male dominated social networks appear in a number of works on view. Shaun El C. Leonardoʼs performance-based sculpture and video work is a salient point of reference, as are Marcelino Gonçalvesʼ sensual paintings of young football stars, and a video work by Joe Sola, of football players sparring with the artist.

Another key theme of the exhibition pertains to the materials, symbols and regalia of sports that signify the prowess of the wearer, and are often construed as synonymous with the identity of the maleathlete. Brian Jungenʼs mixed media works rework sports merchandise into suggestive works addressing the artistʼs individual identity, while Hank Willis Thomasʼs haunting image of a bare chest that has been branded with the Nike swoosh logo, using Photoshop, equates athletes with commercialized products, while simultaneously referencing the practice of branding African-American slaves. The concept of athletic events as gendered theater arises in the works of Paul Pfeiffer and Mark Bradford, and in the work of Catherine Opie, whose vivid color photographs of Friday night high school football heightens the dramatized atmosphere. In her individual portraits of the players, Ms. Opie “manages to capture the tentatively constituted self-image of her teenage subjects….[They] hesitate about themselves, aware of the archetypes they aspire to,” in the words of guest curator Christopher Bedford.

Despite all that has changed as a result of the identity politics of the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, one American stereotype still remains particularly entrenched: that of the aggressive, hypercompetitive, emotionally undemonstrative, heterosexual male athlete. This subject has, until recently, been overlooked by critically minded artists, critics, art historians, and curators. Adopting methodologies inspired by feminist and queer theory, gender studies, and racial politics, Mixed Signals brings together a significant body of recent work that explores the polyvalent figure of the contemporary male athlete, which has only recently attained sufficient critical mass for such an exhibition to take place.

Other artists featured in Mixed Signals include Lyle AshtonHarris, Kurt Kauper, Kori Newkirk, and Marco Rios.

Mixed Signals premiered at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan on February 1, 2009. Other venues for the exhibit included the Cranbrook Art Museum (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan); the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland (Baltimore, Maryland); the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, Ohio); the Art Gallery of Calgary (Alberta, Canada); the Middlebury College Museum of Art (Middlebury, Vermont); and The Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).

Matthew Barney
The foundational figure for the Mixed Signals exhibition is American multi-media artist Matthew Barney, winner of the Guggenheim Museum’s inaugural Hugo Boss Award (1996). Mr. Barney entered the arts world to almost instant controversy and success after he graduated from Yale University in 1991. Mr. Barney has mined a range of materials—from Vaseline and dumbbells to chalk and wrestling mats —and imagery, much of it related to football, to foreground the way young men are socio-culturally and psychosexually formed by the intimate experience of competitive sport. Mr. Barney isolated themes, imagery, and materials within the culture of sport that hinted at related economies of sexuality, objectification, homo-sociality, and desire; and developed an aesthetic practice to grapple with these difficult themes.

There will be a screening of two films by Mr. Barney, Cremaster 4 (1994) and Drawing Restraint 10 (2005), which in combination emphasize the persistence of these themes within the artistʼs oeuvre. The films will be shown on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 7:30pm in the Powell Family Cinema, located in the Center for Film Studies, 301 Washington Terrace on the Wesleyan campus in Middletown. Admission to the film screening is free. The Cremaster films are a series of visually extravagant works that feature Mr. Barney in myriad roles, including characters as diverse as a satyr, a magician, a ram, Harry Houdini and even the infamous murderer Gary Gilmore. The ongoing Drawing Restraint series was started in 1987 as a studio experiment, built upon the athletic model of development in which growth occurs only through restraint (i.e., literally restraining the body while attempting to make a drawing). Drawing Restraint 10 features Mr. Barney jumping on a trampoline which has been set at an angle, attempting to draw two linked field emblems on the ceiling.

Wesleyan University Ezra | Cecile Zilkha Gallery | Masculinity in Sports | Mixed Signals |

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