"Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports" September 9 - October 23 in Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery

"Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports" September 9 - October 23 in Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery

Wesleyan University's Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery presents
Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports
 September 9 - October 23, 2011
Middletown, Conn., August 21, 2011— 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 will be on view in Wesleyan University’s Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, located at 283 Washington Terrace on the Wesleyan campus in Middletown, from Friday, September 9 through Sunday, October 23, 2011. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from Noon to 4pm, and on Friday from Noon to 8pm. Gallery admission is free.

The public is invited to attend the opening reception on Friday, September 9, 2011 from 5pm to 7pm, with a gallery talk at 5:30pm by artist Shaun El C. Leonardo. The opening reception is free.

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.

Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports is co-sponsored by the Art History Program of the Department of Art and Art History, the Physical Education Department, and the Center for Film Studies at Wesleyan University.

About the Exhibition
The artistic theme of Mixed Signals has become increasingly prevalent during the past several years, building upon several decades of discourse about identity and gender. 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 Signalsbrings 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).

About 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.

About Christopher Bedford, Guest Curator
Christopher Bedford is Chief Curator at the Wexner Center for the Visual Arts in Columbus, Ohio. Recent exhibitions include asurvey of Mark Bradfordʼs work (May 2010) that traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; as well as smaller shows of work by Alyson Shotz and Susan Phillipsz; and a group exhibition entitled Hard Targets. Projects in progress include solo presentations of work by Erwin Redl, Tobias Putrih and MOS, Katy Moran, Joel Morrison, Nathalie Djurberg, and Paul Sietsema; as well as a Facture and Fidelity: Painting, 1945–2013, co-organized with Katy Siegel, which will open at the Wexner Center in 2013. Mr. Bedford has written extensively on art for publications including Artforum, Art in America, Frieze, and October.

About Independent Curators International
Founded in 1975, Independent Curators International is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of contemporary art through traveling exhibitions and other activities that reach a diverse national and international audience. Collaborating with a wide range of eminent curators, Independent Curators International develops innovative traveling exhibitions, accompanied by catalogues and other educational materials, to introduce and document challenging new work in all mediums byyounger as well as more established artists from the United States and abroad.

The Mixed Signals exhibition, tour, and catalogue are made possible in part by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the ICI Advocates, the ICI Partners, Agnes Gund, Gerrit and Sydie Lansing, and Barbara and John Robinson. Mixed Signals is an expanded version of Contemporary Projects 11: Hard Targets—Masculinity and Sports, an exhibition curated by Mr. Bedford and organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 

For additional information about Independent Curators International, please visit http://www.curatorsintl.org