A 2010 Canadian study reported that men are less likely than women to say ‘I’m sorry’. Masculinity, it seems, is the right to be unapologetic. It indicates the state of denial and the pursuit of repression. Based around individual achievement and strength of will and purpose, masculinity conceals the collaborative and, at times, abusive mechanisms which produce social status. Masculinity is Tony Abbott walking away from an interviewer’s question. It is the imperative of instruction over exchange. In Why Men Don’t Listen…and can only do one thing at a time (1999), Allan and Barbara Pease advise readers that, ‘men use direct speech and take things literally’. The oeuvre of author and Fairfax blogger, Sam de Brito, exemplifies this imbrication of gender and genre. In Building a Better Bloke: Become a Man Women Want (2008), de Brito suggests you can’t beat around the bush if you want to beat around the bush. ‘Brushing your teeth, flossing, soaping all body parts once, then twice, clippering your nails, trimming hair where needed, getting a snappy haircut – you have to do it if you want somebody cute to put you in their mouth,’ he states.

But if masculinity embodies a no-nonsense rhetoric, how does it relate to art? In the nineteenth century, the Romantic artist emerged in opposition to the growth of industrial capitalism and its privileged subject of bourgeois masculinity. Appropriating traditional female domains of beauty, artifice, display and decoration, the figure of the artist contested the utilitarian, rational, use-value logic of the market economy. With the charismatic figurehead of Oscar Wilde, the art-for-art’s-sake movement championed aesthetic (and erotic) pleasures outside a reproductive economy. In the subsequent homosexual panic following the 1895 prosecution and conviction of Wilde for ‘gross indecency’, the construction of continuities between aestheticism, effeminacy and homosexuality further sedimented the opposition between art and masculinity. The avant-garde movement did something to correct this treacherous slide of art into femininity by realigning women with the category of nature and biography and rigidifying and codifying experimental and transgressive practices of symbolism, self-reflexivity, parody and citation as canonical twentieth-century art forms. Therefore, insofar as the canon refused the epithet of ‘the male canon’, it was also unapologetically male.  

MAN OF MY DREAMS represents a rethinking of the relationship between masculinity, self-reflexivity and canonicity. Assembling painting, sculpture, photography, poetry and music from male and female contributors, MAN OF MY DREAMS explores the imaginary and conflicting influences which constitute the discursive minefield in which contemporary masculinity is constructed. Celeste CHANDLER invites a horde of naked men into the gallery space. Christopher CLEMENTS questions the cultural value of primitivism. Steve COX exposes an historical process behind sexual desire. Nicola DRACOULIS captures the vulnerability and bravado of unguarded moments. Rhys LEE debates the personal cost of abstraction. Benjamin ROWETT reviews the paradox between fetishistic and nihilistic image cultures. Greg WADLEY demonstrates that nothing is easy for anyone. Petra WHITE says that dreams and reality can coincide. Against the historical specification of masculinity as authority, knowledge and power, MAN OF MY DREAMS suggests that masculinity is a romantic fiction which is both pleasurable and productive for its multiple perversions.

Peta Mayer 2013