Masculinity and queer life explored in major new photography exhibition

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Photo by Peter Hujar: David Brintzenhofe Applying Makeup (II), 1982 © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The Barbican arts center in London is gearing up for one of its biggest exhibitions of the year. Masculinities – Liberation through Photography will come to the labyrinth, brutalist UK landmark from February, 20th, to May, 17th, 2020. 

The show will feature over 300 works from 50 international artists, from the 1960s to the present day. 

Untitled, from the series Soldiers, 1999, by Adi Nes. Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

Notable names featured will include Richard Avedon, Peter Hujar, Isaac Julien, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Robert Mapplethorpe, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Catherine Opie. There will also be lesser-known names including some who have never been exhibited in the UK before. 

Untitled 22 from the series Christopher Street, 1976, by Sunil Gupta. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery. © Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

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As the show’s title suggests, the works all present or explore notions of masculinity. It will be split into six sections: queer identity; the black body; power and patriarchy; female perceptions of men; heteronormative hypermasculine stereotypes; and fatherhood and family. 

Catherine Opie: Bo from “Being and Having”, 1991. Collection of Gregory R. Miller and Michael Wiener © Catherine Opie, Courtesy Regen projects, Los Angeles; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said in a statement announcing the show: “Masculinities: Liberation through Photography continues our commitment to presenting leading twentieth-century figures in the field of photography while also supporting younger contemporary artists working in the medium today. 

“In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the resurgence of feminist and men’s rights activism, traditional notions of masculinity has become a subject of fierce debate. This exhibition could not be more relevant and will certainly spark conversations surrounding our understanding of masculinity.”

Among work included will be Thomas Dworzak’s Taliban series – portraits found in photographic studios in Kandahar following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 of Taliban fighters in makeup posing hand in hand in front of painted backdrops.

Thomas Dworzak: Taliban portrait. Kandahar, Afghanistan. 2002. © Collection T. Dworzak/Magnum Photos

Hal Fischer’s 1977 photo-text series Gay Semiotics, captured the styles and types of gay men in San Francisco, while Sunil Gupta’s street photographs captured gay life in and around New York’s Christopher Street. 

Hal Fischer – Street Fashion: Jock from the series Gay Semiotics, 1977/2016. Courtesy of the artist and Project Native Informant London

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The Barbican show is one of two that may be of specific interest to queer viewers. As previously reported on GayCities, Tate Modern will have a major Andy Warhol retrospective running from March, 12th, through to September, 6th, 2020. It will feature the biggest group showing in the UK of Warhol’s portraits of drag queens and gender non-conforming sitters.