"Will Boys Be Boys?

Indianapolis Museum of Art

Through Jan. 14

In many cultures, rituals usher young boys through the paces of becoming so-called men; some aboriginal cultures, for instance, literally transition a boy to a man through ritual ceremony and sometimes physically challenging trials. Western culture in general aches for elder-led rituals but because they are largely non-existent, our boys have created them themselves — fraternity hazing being a well-publicized example. Fetishization of sports, guns and/or violence, hard rock and women offer both the symbols and the means for acting out their complex feelings, sometimes communally.

The traveling exhibition Will Boys Be Boys? Questioning Adolescent Masculinity in Contemporary Art, on loan to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, offers contemporary artists’ views of how such adolescent masculinity plays out in the culture. Organized by Independent Curators International, the exhibition is by and large disturbing rather than hopeful. While the artists don’t necessarily take a dark view — rather, they try to take an objective one — the images that embody adolescent masculinity suggest that the process is indeed broken.

Chloe Piene’s “Little David” (1999, video) is a portrait of young David, an adolescent assuming the threatening pose of a more fearless tough with increasingly suggestive gestures and words — “I’ll smash you until there’s nothing left …” — and yet, without such gestures, David is your neighbor’s spelling bee champion, perhaps, or an altar boy at the Catholic church. David, of course, is more complex than any of these roles — as are most boys.

Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin’s “Type A” videos satirize competitive masculine activity in humorous clips of the two grown men urinating side by side, running around poles and engaged in other inane acts. Anthony Goicolea explores identity, race, class and community in his photographs of “schoolboys” engaged in activities such as digging a hole in the woods or prodding other boys floating facedown in a pool; the kicker is, each boy is a digitally duplicated and manipulated self-portrait. Indeed, boys (as well as girls) struggle for sameness and individuality.

The exhibition offers the requisite depictions of violence, particularly in videos of young men bloodied from backyard wrestling or banging heads at punk rock concerts. Skateboard culture, cars and booze are also in plentiful supply. We also have depictions of boy-as-pinup, suggesting that boys can be objectified as well as girls and women can.

There’s a temptation to laugh and shake our heads — boys will be boys, indeed — and yet, one can’t help make the connection between arrested or aimless adolescence and a general state of cultural upheaval — with a preponderance of violence and media-driven obsessions with sports. Something is indeed out of balance.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is to be applauded for helping bring awareness to issues that have such grave importance for our culture and its hoped-for evolution. This isn’t a show about beauty; rather, it’s testament to the notion of art as truth.

Will Boys Be Boys? is on view in the Forefront Galleries of the IMA through Jan. 14. For more information, call 317-923-1331 or visit www.ima-art.org.



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