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The concept is clear as day, simple really: each of us wants to be seen and appreciated for the full measure of our being. Not some archetypical presumptions attached to our gender, but for the complex, variegated place upon which each individual falls on an expansive, multicolored spectrum. This is the humanistic message Caleb Cole has brought to his sensitive and nuanced multi-media projects over many years. His latest installation To Be Seen investigates the feminine side of masculinity with such creative craftsmanship and diversity that it really should be seen firsthand. In the adjoining gallery, Ria Brodell’s series of captivating gouache portraits, Butch Heroes, honors the histories of women who were deemed “too masculine” in their time. I will be reviewing Cole’s photographically-based work here, but these fascinating, complimentary exhibits will be on view at Gallery Kayafas in Boston’s SoWa arts district through April 8, 2017.
Caleb Cole presents an inventive variety of subtly altered vintage photographs and installation pieces, addressing the cruel history of shunned homosexual and feminine behavior in men, from artistic pursuits such as flower pressing to clandestine homoerotic desires. In “Traces”, Cole has altered photographs of individual pages from gay men’s magazines in the 1980’s-1990’s so that the outlines of reclined or entwined bodies become mere shadows, their identities symbolically negated. In a similar sort of veiling, Cole has fashioned tiny “purses” using pages from vintage pressed flower albums, with old necklaces for their straps. Behind each sheath of translucent paper holding pressed flowers, Cole has added a vintage photograph of a suited man, a pointed and poignant comment on hidden ardor.
It is a history of punishing shame and secreted passion, which Cole presents in some instances with piercing delicacy but in others with outright verve. In an exuberant wall-sized installation in the back gallery, Cole has draped a rainbow of fabulous second-hand gowns to frame a cut-out vintage photograph of an unabashedly gay man, flashing a glamorous smile and some leg, as he exits a paddy wagon following a police sting at a gay bar. While celebratory, it emphasizes the brutal treatment of men whose desires drove them underground. The sheer variety of artistic expression in To Be Seen is astounding but all of Cole’s pieces feature some form of concealment and, whether subtle or bold, they deliver the same barbed question: why?
On Saturday, March 18th, 2017 the public is invited to join Hunter O’Hanian, Executive Director and CEO of the College Art Association, in a panel discussion with Caleb Cole and Ria Brodell at 3:00pm. Ria Brodell’s ‘Butch Heroes’ book signing will follow.
There will be a free, public artists’ reception on First Friday, April 7th, 2017 from 5:30 – 8:00pm.
For more information about special programming and these exhibits, go to: http://www.gallerykayafas.com/
Feature Image: “Through the Looking Glass, 2017” (Detail), Archival pigment print from vintage photograph, vintage compact case, by Caleb Cole (courtesy of the artist and Gallery Kayafas, Boston).