Men Without Suits: Objectifying the American Male Body presents a wide-angle look at the evolution of depictions of the nude male. Curator John Vollmer suggests the bulging American beefcake aesthetic developed because the hyper-masculine body was more socially acceptable. He explains that “social constructs permit muscle-building magazines to be displayed in racks without censorship, but require no less provocative images on the covers of soft porn magazines to be kept behind protective barriers.” The viewer is guided through centuries of glutes with bite-size factoids glimpsing at padded cod pieces – 1450s jockstraps worn under manskirts – and the celebration of prepubescent boys in ancient Greece, which presaged the first Mr. Olympia contest in 1981. This exhibit exposes Vollmer’s challenge to construct a comprehensive evolution from only a scattering of sociological material produced on gender and sexuality. These fragments of our sexual heritage raise questions this exhibit could not begin to answer. The viewer must construct an understanding of how others deal with the male nude through an awareness of how these images arouse us today.
Stags, Smokers and Blue Movies: The Origins of American Pornographic Film, curated by Joseph Slade and Jennifer Lyon Bell, transports the viewer –through dim lighting, floor projections and ambient vocal outbursts of testosterone –into a clandestine stag party, where gatherings of men watch illegal hard-core pornography in smoky backrooms.
In 1907, less than a decade after the movie camera was invented, porn was being produced in Hungary, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Argentina, North Africa and the United States. One of many rare films shown at MOSex, The Casting Couch (1924), a 35mm silent film, is a pornographic parody of Hollywood’s Mark Sennett, a notorious cad who demanded sex from attractive women in exchange for parts in Hollywood features. In this still-relevant x-rated social commentary, the casting director hands the lady a book titled How to be a Movie Star, and in a flash, they’re fucking ravenously on the casting couch.
At the very least, this museum is an alter to the universal act of sex. Footage of a close-up of a labia being pulled to and fro as if it were doing the Charleston aside, its exhibitions tend to expose bonds between cultures and generations rather than distinctions.
Now showing at the Museum of Sex, 233 5th Avenue. For hours and tickets see museumofsex.org.