[Editor’s note: This entry includes penises. Read on at your own peril.]
The Cantor Center, otherwise known as the Stanford Museum, has had some pretty awesome exhibits over the years that I’ve been here. Current exhibits on rotation include “In the American West,” a photography exhibit, “Visions of Dharma,” an exhibit on contemporary Thai art — and “Beefcake,” an exhibition of the Stanford Library’s collection of Dave Martin photography.
“Beefcake: Physique Photography of Dave Martin” curated by Michele Kraus examines the genre of physique photography that dominated 1950’s homoerotic culture and inspired other artists. The term “Beefcake” refers to images of well-built men, images emphasizing ideals of shape and the aesthetics of body building. These images appeared most frequently in fitness magazines, which were hugely popular in the 1950s. Beefcake images had a strong impact on subsequent art historical movements, as can be seen in the much-exhibited work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. … Martin’s photographs are part of the enduring legacy of the physique magazine culture. This exhibition is the first public display of selections from Stanford University’s collection of 2,600 Dave Martin photographs acquired from the artist in 2003.
Tempted by the press release, I decided to drag a friend along to go see it with me. The following is a brief summary of my findings:
“Three alibis were commonly used to assuage homosexual accusations: sport, art, and nature. All three defenses can be seen in Dave Martin’s photography — student athletes holding basketballs, men emulating Greek art in statuesque posture … and men casually leaning on rocks and foregrounding meadows and trees.”
“Dave Martin frequently contributed photographs to physique magazines of the 1950s such as Physique Pictorial, Grecian Guild Pictorial, and Vim. They featured full-page photographs of flexed and oiled young men accompanied by muscle measurements and health tips, with the goal of presenting the male physique, as written in Physique Pictorial’s statement of purpose, in a ‘wholesome, inspiring manner — to provide both the artist and the physical culturist with fine studies which will spur them on to ever greater efforts.’ Although never openly gay, these magazines were the first to admire the male body directly, and their homosexual overtones became an open secret, shared but never articulated.”
“Dave Martin was one of the only physique photographers to invite African American athletes into his photography studio. In a recent interview Martin explains why, with no market for the photographs, he included African American athletes in his portfolio. ‘It certainly wasn’t for the money. The pictures didn’t sell — no one wanted them. I wouldn’t even list them in catalogs. I took them to please myself, for the sheer beauty of the male body. These beautiful black amateur athletic bodies.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, Dave Martin retouched his photos. On the left is the photo without retouching.
“Beefcake images had a strong impact on subsequent homoerotic art. Their influence can readily be seen in the much-exhibited work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Formal similarities abound–the aestheticization of the male body through dramatic lighting, powerful poses, and masculine directness.”
Also see Wikipedia’s entry on Beefcake magazines for more. The exhibit at Cantor runs through March 4th.