Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) at the Institute of Contemporary Art
Before you start making innuendoes, stop. They’re way ahead of you. “Please be aware that this exhibition contains material visitors may find challenging,” claims the ICA website. Challenging would potentially be too grand a term. If you find the male anatomy challenging, this lives up to the warning. Otherwise it’s nothing to kick up a fuss about.
The very first thing you are greeted by is an enormous erection. It’s so big it takes up two walls. An American flag juts from the urethra and the words “moral injury” are written large along the shaft – it’s a good introduction to the rest of the show. Judith Bernstein seems to be fixated on penises: she’s been drawing them for years. The problem is that they look like something you’d find scrawled on the desk of a secondary school classroom by a particularly politically engaged 14-year old. While the message behind it may be sincere, it’s hard to take it too seriously because it’s executed in such a juvenile fashion.
Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) as a whole revolves around the subversion of masculine archetypes. The theme of erections continues almost universally. Other artists use it as a symbol of potency, while contrasting it with contradictory tones. The butch masculine male figure with huge muscles runs up against the camp image of the homosexual biker or repressed gym fanatic. Ejaculations are portrayed and thrust powerfully into the foreground, while their backgrounds reveal the conflicting moment of vulnerability.
There’s a good amount of talent on display and the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, but in the era of the Internet almost nothing is shocking, and a series of pieces of art containing erections is not a challenge. The subversion of childish cultural machismo is also nothing new. The show might stir some thoughts and arouse some ideas, but their cultural impact is often restricted to their own periods or doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it would like.
Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) is at the Institute of Contemporary Art from until 8th September 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.