featured gallery for January 2012

If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry

Humour within a fine art context is often looked down upon. If all it does is make one smile or make one laugh then does it really have any value as art? Spanning almost 20 years and with a focus on the male form, the works I've selected for January's Web gallery are in turn sexual, political, celebratory and most definitely have a sense of humour.

Of course, recognising the power of retaining a sense of humour in adversity is intrinsic to the human condition in overcoming it and is one of the few concepts that separates us from our animal cousins. No apes sit around regaling each other with tales of mirth about a lost companion. Or do they? It could be that we simply don't understand.

Dog, 1977-1978, by Jimmy DeSana, an artist known for his witty and erotic colour imagery, begins our journey. It's an absurd image of a ferocious animal baring its teeth next to a hard cock being jerked off. Unsettling but amusing in the way a great horror film will make you laugh at the moment of unspent anti-climax. Moving on to David Wojnarowicz'sArthur Rimbaud in N.Y. (peep show), 1978-79, which stares out at us from the doorway of a peep show and, like the previous work, was produced post-Stonewall but pre-AIDS, a time pregnant with possibility in a city full of sex, love, art and drugs.

We leap into the mid-1990s with Carlos Gutierrez-Solana'sStallion, 1994, depicting the most mythic of American heroes, the Cowboy, but here, in just boots and a hat, his masculinity is muted next to a horse that could be borrowed from The Lone Ranger. Similarly, in both of Derek Jackson's works (American Flag, 1997, and Stars, 1998), we're again presented with a physical masculine ideal, but this time of African-American male bodies, in both cases revelling in their bodies and in the stars and stripes of Old Glory. At the end of the decade, Philip Calkins' Belly Button, 1999, again depicts an American flag (cocktail stick?) triumphantly planted in a guy's navel, the body itself as a playground and undiscovered country ripe for exploration and conquer.

Into the noughties (2000-2009) and almost up to the present day, Alex Aleixo and Almado Jimenez have both use appropriated imagery in their respective works The Green Effect, 2001, and Untitled (7), 2006. In Aleixo's case the camp classic duo of Batman and Robin are confronted with a naked (except for his tattoos) gay clone who towers above them as they gasp in horror, a new enemy to vanquish.

Although we can never forget the pain and suffering that we experience losing a loved one as an individual or many thousands as a community, we can approach it with strength and courage and remember with a smile those who have enriched our lives and helped to shape the people we are today. After all, it's one of the things that make us truly human.