Naked and Not Afraid Closing (Theater and Galleries)

When: Jan. 23-March 1 2015

In the press materials for its current group show, “Naked and Not Afraid,” Jackson Junge Gallery frames the presentation of nudity thusly: “This exhibition rebels against the societal constraints that make us conceal our true self.” The work on display, however, is actually more complicated—and intriguing—than the gallery implies. James Mesple’s uber-campy collage Epic-Hercules-Fig Leaf and Club is a winking homage to the long tradition of Greek statuary as gay signal. The fantastically muscled demigods—conveniently placed fig leaves and all—carry big sticks in a work that looks like something straight out of Tom of Finland’s homoerotic catalog. Anna Margush’s photographs of performance artist Katie Hovencamp feature the not-model-thin model, her face hidden, completely nude aside from the long, elaborate wigs that hang from her crotch, each topped by a bow. The heavy female body is presented as both shameful and worth flaunting, both desexed and eroticized. Colm McCarthy’s photograph Waiting for a Bus That Never Comes shows a person of uncertain gender, hair covering his or her face and chest, who’s bare except for long tube socks and slumped on a public bench in front of a mural of unclothed gnomelike beings waiting resignedly on a ledge. The graffiti image mirrors and emphasizes the staged nature of the photo; here nudity is a costume in a fantasy performance, whether of degradation or whimsy. The 17 artists in “Naked and Not Afraid” aren’t necessarily exposing their true selves. Rather, they’re playing with nudity as a trope that signifies various things—self-revelation, yes, but also sex, camp, and even violence, as in the case of The Attack, a trashy pencil sketch of a boar-headed woman with gun barrels for nipples, by the gallery’s house artist, Laura Lee Junge. The nude, this exhibition suggests, presents not truth, but tease. The visible surface doesn’t so much reveal as it distracts. —Noah Berlatsky

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