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Will Boys Be Boys?

Adolescent masculinity is celebrated throughout American culture today—on television, in movies, music, magazines, and advertisements. Reflecting on this cultural phenomenon, contemporary artists, too, have turned to male adolescent rituals and images as subjects ripe for examination in their photographs, videos, paintings, and sculptures. As the title of this exhibition implies, these artists look beyond a simplistic notion of youth or gender. Instead, they explore the state of adolescence as an in-between realm, both literally and metaphorically speaking.

Less about “adolescence” as a specific phase of human development, this exhibition instead focuses on a notion of “boy-ness” that is socially and culturally determined. The “boys” who figure in the works on view are not limited to any age group, but instead might be seen as culturally constructed archetypes. The exhibition addresses this subject in three ways. First, the male adolescent is explored through his image, the representation of his physical appearance alone and in groups. Second, many of the works examine the actions of the adolescent male, his specifically gendered rituals and activities; and third, the objects often associated with adolescent males, such as skateboards, cars, and weapons, for instance, appear throughout the exhibition.

The adolescent impulse in the art on view here should be regarded neither as childish regression by the artist nor as the equivalent of the commercialized expression of capitalist desire perpetuated by youth-obsessed media. Rather, this impulse represents an expanded realm of possibility—in which violence and vulnerability, desire and anguish, can coexist—posing open-ended questions rather than providing answers.

Will Boys Be Boys? Questioning Adolescent Masculinity in Contemporary Art is a traveling exhibition organized and circulated by Independent Curators International (iCI), New York. The exhibition was curated by Shamim M. Momin. The exhibition, tour, and brochure are made possible, in part, by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

The Johnson Museum’s presentation of the exhibition was funded in part by a grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts.