Art Re­de­fined

American Art Collector - - Contents - Ge­orge Bil­lis Gallery 525 W. 26th Street, Ground Floor • New York, NY 10001 • (212) 645-2621 • www.george­bil­lis.com

Wes Hempel has long imag­ined what art his­tory might have been like had the gay ex­pe­ri­ence not been left out of the artis­tic canon. The ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women re­flected so­ci­ety. The ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of men didn’t hap­pen be­cause the framers of the canon were men them­selves. Cel­e­bra­tion of male beauty, un­less couched in the heroic, could have re­vealed re­viled ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

Hempel com­ments on not find­ing his life ex­pe­ri­ence when he vis­its the world’s great mu­se­ums be­cause it is not part of the canon. He says, “Of course, it’s a se­lected past that gets val­i­dated. Con­spic­u­ously ab­sent to me as a gay man is my own story. By pre­sent­ing con­tem­po­rary males as ob­jects of de­sire in fa­mil­iar look­ing art his­tor­i­cal set­tings, I’m able to imag­ine (and al­low view­ers to imag­ine) a past that in­cludes rather than ex­cludes gay ex­pe­ri­ence—and ride the coat­tails, as it were, of art his­tory’s im­pri­matur.”

An ex­cep­tion in the past was the lit­eral de­ifi­ca­tion of the ex­traor­di­nar­ily beau­ti­ful Greek

boy Anti­nous—who was the ac­knowl­edged lover of the Ro­man em­peror Hadrian. When Anti­nous drowned mys­te­ri­ously in the Nile, Hadrian built a city in his honor on its banks. Anti­nous was wor­shipped as a hero and a god and busts of him rank with those of Au­gus­tus and Hadrian as the most pop­u­lar in the an­cient world.

Hempel’s con­tem­po­rary males em­body a less heroic beauty than the sculp­tures of Greece and Rome. His wrestlers and gym­nasts are per­fect in a hu­man way, real and ac­ces­si­ble.

In his ex­hi­bi­tion of new work at Ge­orge Bil­lis Gallery in New York, he con­tin­ues to place his fig­ures in his­tor­i­cal con­texts but also paints them as them­selves—liv­ing, not his­tori­ciz­ing. In fact, a prize-win­ning ath­lete looks away from a clas­sic boxer in Un­ti­tled.

A young man in Call­ing (Study) re­sponds to the en­ergy of the uni­verse. In Mis­chief, one male tor­ments an­other with a feather. The dra­matic clouds in both paint­ings and the clas­sic land­scape in Mis­chief at­test to the eter­nal na­ture of fra­ter­nal af­fec­tion as well as that of love.

The ex­hi­bi­tion opens Oc­to­ber 2 and con­tin­ues through Novem­ber 3.




4Un­ti­tled, oil on can­vas, 30 x 30"4

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