The new exhibition at The LAB is called “The Man Box and Beyond: an exhibit about masculinity and male identity.” The curator, Allegra Fortunati, based the title on an exercise developed at the Oakland Men’s Project, an exercise also known as the Gender Box or Act Like a Man. A description of the exercise is available on the website of the Family Violence Prevention Fund.
Fifteen artists were selected to participate via an open call for proposals. The standout for me was an audio piece, “Men Seeking,” by Chicago artist Scott Kildall. A nondescript cloth hangs against the corner of the gallery, as if to hide an ugly stain. There is narrow space between the cloth and the corner, enough for one person, maybe two, to stand up. Inside it’s dark because the fabric is lined in black. From a speaker at the top of this airless confessional, you hear a series of short phone recordings of men responding to a woman’s relationship ad. The are trying to sell themselves in about 30 seconds. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, maybe you’ll shed a tear. It’s a brilliant piece.
My second favorite was a large drawing by Jaime Cortez, called “Another Hero—The Assguardian” (photo at top). The media are color pencil and graphite on paper. The drawing is hung slightly away from the wall, to allow space behind the cutout letters that spell out the cry of “Never!”
Victor Barbieri contributes videos in which the participants look out at the viewer (photo above, from the artist’s website). One called “Friends” is a 3-channel portrait of a group of men. In two other videos, cute guys show off their physiques. One guy does “4 for you”—pushups, that is. The other makes a pitch in your direction, in “Boy with a Ball.” These two videos can be streamed from Barbieri’s website, from which the above image of the pushup guy has been extracted. (Also available is “Woman with Red Hair,” which was included in the “Truth and Lies” show that I helped curate at Mission 17.)
A video by Vancouver artist Daniel Anderson (“Cumulus”) is an ungainly combination of artful photography, slow pacing, mournful string music, and implied outdoor sex between a man and a little boy. Technically superb, it seems a victim of warring impulses. It tries to reveal and hide at the same time. It was almost as if, to avoid a charge of child pornography, the artist omitted anything that would seem too direct. There is no dialogue. There is no context. The viewer is left wondering what the meaning could be.
Jonn Herschend’s installation is a PowerPoint slide show with video inserts featuring himself as an actor. It’s called “What a Man Really Is, and What He is Not.” I thought the slides fell flat, but the video sections came alive because Herschend performs with a nicely judged hamminess. Memo to artist: show us, don’t tell us.
The rest of the show fell off rapidly in interest. Surely there was better work to be had. Another disappointment is the installation, which creates rampant sound bleed. You can be listening to one set of videos on headphones and hear three other pieces at the same time. I’m sure lack of funds played a part, but still it’s lamentable.