‘The Male Nude in Art’ at UConn Benton

By Susan Dunne for the Hartford Courant

In centuries before the 19th, female and male nudes were common in art. Then public tastes shifted. To this day, female nudes are commonly seen, but male ones are hard to find in galleries, unless the show is about homoeroticism.

A new exhibit at the Benton Museum at UConn Storrs is having none of that. “Stark Imagery” has a few naked women scattered here and there, but is primarily a celebration of the nude male body.

Roger Crossgrove — who was head of the university’s Studio Arts Department from 1968 to 1988 and who taught at Pratt Institute when Robert Mapplethorpe was a student there — contributed many items to the exhibit. The show is divided into themes including athletes and body builders, formal compositions, the aging male body and fetishism.

The photos showing aging men are the most charming, as they focus on imperfections: flab, wrinkles, gray hair, men keeping it together against the odds. Those artworks hang in an alcove in the gallery facing the fetishism segment, which is quite the opposite: images of men who are young, toned and in-your-face about what they want from themselves and others.

Many photographs in the section on athleticism were taken for “physique” magazines from the ’50s, which celebrated perfect male beauty and were a staple of the gay underground. Exceptions are Crossgrove works; a lovely shot of Lance Armstrong, naked on a bicycle, by Annie Liebovitz; and a series of small photos by Eadweard Muybridge, the 19th-century photographer who pioneered studies of human motion

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