Subscribe to Blog via Email
To put it mildly, gender is a complicated issue. With anatomical, hormonal and emotional components – at least – this knotty question continues to defy clarity and incite controversy. Fortunately, recent artistic expressions have let some fresh air into the room, providing increased recognition and acceptance of gender differences. One remarkable photographic exploration is Lissa Rivera’s “Beautiful Boy”, an ongoing photographic series focusing on BJ, her gender-fluid muse and lover. Rivera’s photographs mirror the complexities of identity, gender and intimacy with striking imagery, now on view in a solo show at the Newport Art Museum in Newport, R.I. through May 20th, 2018.
Rivera intrigues with glamorous images that personify cinematic, fashion, and cultural idols, as in her nods to William Eggleston’s mastery of color in “Eggleston Hair” or Larry Sultan’s iconic Pictures from Home in “Living Room”. Rivera’s meticulous sets, costumes and make-up are seductive and familiar, beseeching us to enter a territory of uncertain interpretation and seeming contradictions. With his male body and female costuming, Rivera’s muse BJ embodies the mantles of femininity and masculinity, simultaneously projecting strength and tenderness.
Rivera’s compositions place BJ in a variety of close-ups and in ordinary or exotic domestic environments which channel their joint journey. Their fantasies are a freeing and safe exploration into the elastic spectrum of gender. By embedding her enigmatic subject into scenes built from visual culture and stereotypes, Rivera entreats us to challenge our assumptions about gender roles and to contemplate a broader view of identity.
Rivera achieves a level of vulnerability and intimacy with her muse BJ that would be impossible with an ordinary model. Her innermost questioning is magnified by contrasts between visual and emotional states, such as a serene tone amid dazzling sets, a feeling of isolation clothed in extravagant glamour, and a strong sense of physical place beset by a lonely, searching mood. It is Rivera’s undefended questioning that disarms viewers, riveting and inviting us into her magnificent, tender portraits.
It is equally worth a trip to the Newport Art Museum to experience the lively and provocative multi-media group show curated by the adventuresome Francine Weiss, Domestic Affairs: Domesticity, Identity and the Home, featuring the wonderful photographs of Nadine Boughton, Nancy Grace Horton and Astrid Reischwitz, along with paintings, sculpture, and textile work by Lisa Barthelson, Kara Dunne, Brooke Erin Goldstein, Leslie M.W. Graff, and Edith Vonnegut, on view through May 6th, 2018.
For hours, directions and more information about both these exhibits at Newport Art Museum, go to: http://www.newportartmuseum.org/Exhibitions/Now-on-View
Feature Image: “Pink Bedroom” (Detail) from the series Beautiful Boy by Lissa Rivera (courtesy of the artist and ClampArt, NYC).