Boys to me

The travails and trepidation of growing up are the focus of a perceptive exhibit in Largo.

Published May 21, 2006


The list is long in theater, literature and film of that most gnarly and inscrutable human, the young man who hovers between child and adult. I think of Holden Caulfield, Ferris Bueller, the guys at Ridgemont High and those in the cult classic Kids. I think of my son, who crossed that threshold years ago without lingering angst. And those who didn't, the lost boys who appear in the news after turning guns on schoolmates, family, even themselves. If you're male, think of yourself.

You will see someone you know or once were in the "Will Boys Be Boys?" exhibition at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art. It's sensitive, perceptive, occasionally humorous but more often painful, a show that touches you on emotional and intellectual levels.

Much of the art is created in mediums that a lot of us find intimidating - installations and videos, for example - and a few works might be uncomfortably explicit for some viewers.

But it's a riveting exhibition, organized by Shamim M. Momin, an associate curator with the Whitney Museum of American Art, for Independent Curators International, which produces many fine traveling shows. The Gulf Coast Museum wisely booked this one for our benefit.

A gallery guide lays out the themes in a cogent manner using color-coded stickers to identify those themes on wall labels: gender and age-specific rituals and activities; physical appearance alone and in groups; and objects associated with adolescent males. Mostly, you won't need those textbook delineations.

You're eased into "Will Boys Be Boys?" with a soulful self-portrait by Slater Bradley assuming the persona of Ian Curtis, the troubled singer with the post-punk band Joy Division who killed himself in 1980. Bradley appears again as Curtis, further along, in a grainy video that uses Curtis' soundtrack of Here Are the Young Men as Bradley re-creates the singer's famously manic stage presence. He's barely visible on the dark screen, like a fading memory.

Play-acting runs through the exhibition in other works. Chloe Piene's Little David is a nine-minute video of a boy dressed in white briefs strutting around his back yard acting tough, speaking in a deeply timbered voice, looking incredibly vulnerable.

Boredom and efforts to beguile it are another prevalent subject. Maria Marshall masterfully captures the loneliness of those years in Playground, a video in which a teen kicks around an imaginary soccer ball, represented by its shadow and the sound of its bouncing, outside a small church that seems as isolated as the boy. Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin, who work under the name Type A, film themselves in 4 Urban Contests, competing in macho races up ladders or around parking garage poles. They're purposefully meaningless but imply the question: aren't most competitions? In Action they "quote" cliched scenes of action movies - the chase through alleys, the car hijacking, the tense snip of the right detonator wire - with tongue-in-cheek amateurism that mocks film school auteurs.

Larry Clark acts as the godfather in this exhibition, a photographer who dispassionately, sometimes savagely, portrayed young people beginning in the 1960s and moved into equally searing films, including Kids in 1995. He's represented by three photographs from the 1980s and a short video from 1992, a clip of an unidentified young man, sweet and clean-cut, being interviewed by a condescending Bryant Gumbel. It and the photo collages of has-been teen heartthrobs Cory Haim and Leif Garrett are unsubtle and unsettling editorials about manipulation and exploitation.

Anthony Goicolea's large-scale photographic prints look like gatherings of boys for a class picture, swim team practice or rooting around in the woods. Look again and notice that they're all the same young man (the artist, a wall text tells us). The same and yet different, clones captured in brief snapshots of individuality, addressing the pack mentality and spirit of rebellion common to that age.

Installations gather and deconstruct some of the toys we associate with little and big boys. Epic Battle Scenes, Giant Car Crashes, and the Good Guys Always Win is a tool chest loaded with artist Ryan Humphrey's old toys, baseball bats, action figures, trading cards and miniature car collections lovingly organized as a nostalgic cabinet of curiosities. Jeff Reed's I'm So Bad (I Don't Care) simulates a sawed-off car, wheels removed and propped on cases of beer, that replicate the furniture popular for those manly garage-to-den conversions, stocked with girlie magazines and throbbing with bass from two speakers. It's the kind of scene that's usually off-limits to women (like me) who roll their eyes.

As I remember those years with my son, I recall frequent eye-rolling. Now 24, he called recently and I asked him, after seeing this show, if the tween and teen years had been unremittingly grim. He started laughing. And remembering, too.

I was about to say that joy was an important omission from the exhibition. But that would be unfair. Creating is joyful, as much as it is also agonizing. "Will Boys Be Boys?" is a great vehicle to examine such youthful agony and ecstasy.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or lennie@sptimes.com.


"Will Boys Be Boys?" is at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art, 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo, through July 2. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 adults, with discounts for others. 727 518-6833 or www.gulfcoastmuseum.org.