Set against a timeline tracing male nude imagery from classical Greece to the 21st Century, Men Without Suits explored the impact of photography on American culture. Challenging the statement “Clothes make the man,” the exhibition uncovered the facades and persona created in our society with what men wear. Interestingly, it also revealed these guises continue when the clothes come off.
Who makes the images? What is their purpose? Who consumes them? Men Without Suits asked and answered these and many more questions, exploring the nature of male erotic appeal, the objectification of the male physique, and the notions of the male nude as both a fantasy and a commodity.
From 5-4th B.C. Greeks and, later Romans celebrated the naked bodies of youthful athletes and mature philosopher kings. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Renaissance thinkers and artists viewed the human body as a reflection of divine perfection. Scientific study of anatomy and new drawing techniques created the need for live models. In the mid 18th and early 19th century, artists repositioned the Classical male nude as aesthetic and socially acceptable. New public museums and galleries collect and display Classical sculpture.
Male Body as Art
Photographs for the masses drove the explosion of images of men without suits. In the 1870 and 80s, Baron von Gloeden and others promoted Mediterranean exoticism. In the 1890s, Koch and Rieth create studio artist tools in the 1890s. By the 1910s and 20s, Studio Arax in Paris and Edwin Townsend in New York, among others, developed an aesthetic for photographing the male nude, which was developed in the 1930s and 40s by George Platt Lynes. Photographers including Robert Mapplethorpe moved the male nude as art into mainstream culture, where it continues to be celebrated, and admired.