The space Above the Bike Shop is just like it sounds: located approximately 20 feet in the air, above a bike shop. This is an intimate and friendly gallery space in a long, slightly vaulted loft with door-sized windows facing west. On the evening I attended, Martin Swift was having an opening for his current project, Paradox of Masculinity. The paintings- five of which were four feet wide by seven feet tall - presented an intuitive fit with the space, which improved my own experience of camaraderie with the work. I would feel too autonomist not regarding the entirety of this show, concerning the space, the work and their symbiosis with each other.
Martin Swift is a painter, and this body of his work focuses on the male figure. The subjects are life-sized nudes, some of whom seem to be engaging in sports such as badminton, croquet, bowling or bocce ball. The notion of these sports adds dynamism to the subjects’ poses- a purpose, so to speak, articulated by the distribution of their weight to a dominant hip or shoulder. Swift is using male figures to comment on counterproductive stereotypes of masculinity, but how he accomplishes this is what makes this unique. Earlier I commented on the permeating cohesion of this event, it turns out this is a subtext Swift is developing with his work. Through working with his friends as models for his work (and displaying said work in a friend’s space), he is reinforcing intimacy and sincerity in social experience, not through sexuality, but honesty. These are some characteristics wrung out from our masculine psyches by gender roles we are persuaded to follow (overtly and subliminally) by our popular culture. So, this exhibit amounts to turnabout, which I consider completely fair play. With these qualities of intention, synergy in process and execution, this particular show is so very effective. We are not persuaded outright to these conclusions, but conducted toward them by osmosis and the steadfast integration of the work and the space as whole- as an experience.
Above the Bike Shop is not a traditional gallery, although it possesses the aesthetic trappings of one. For this exhibit, the walls are an off-white (a very light tint, on the orange side of pink), and the space has been fitted with stereotypical masculine accouterments from the DC apparel outfit, MUTINY. All this would read as shtick, if it weren’t so seamless and intentional. True, it isn’t conventional (especially for a gallery setting), but that is also part of the point: reconsidering conventions. Additionally, the atmosphere enhances the immersive quality of the exhibit. We are invited, not directed; humbled, instead of captivated; and entertained, as opposed to subjugated, by an experience, rather than a spectacle. All this made me consider the significance of the intentions behind the production of Paradox of Masculinity. The intentional but synthetic environment prodded me to question what was, and was not, sincere; which, in turn, brought me back Swift’s inquisition of gender role stereotypes. He doesn’t provide a solution, rather the impetus and milieu with which to examine what masculinity means to us, and what we’re taught that it’s supposed to mean.
With this exhibition, Above the Bike Shop is hosting a variety of events over the following month. For further information, please visit http://mrtnswft.com/exhibitions/2013/7/12/paradox-of-masculinity