The fascination with youth that dominates the fields of media and entertainment has shown up increasingly in recent contemporary art. Examining the nature of adolescent masculinity in art from the past five years, Will Boys Be Boys? brings together works by nineteen nationally recognized contemporary artists or artist teams, ranging from paintings, photographs, and sculptures to installation pieces and video works. The artists explore the notion of the adolescent male, the “boy,” as a socially determined type, in terms of his physical appearance—clothing, hairstyle, and accessories—as well as his pastimes and behaviors. Aware of post-feminist ideas about the complex fluidity of gender and identity that have emerged over the last few decades, these artists treat the subject of male adolescence with deliberate ambiguity, manifested as a mixture of celebration, critique, imitation, and desire. Male adolescence is seen as a multivalent condition: sometimes androgynous, even feminine in some respects; both arrogant and vulnerable; alternating at times between threatening menace and exuberant innocence.
One group of works addresses the gender-specific rituals and activities of male youth; Tim Gardner’s meticulous, photo-realist watercolors of his brother’s friends engaged in activities typical of suburban middle-class college students. A second section focusing on “image” includes the photographs of Nikki S. Lee, who exposes the surprisingly fluid boundaries of identity and appearance among a clique of young male skaters. The third group explores the symbols and objects with which adolescent males are associated, a theme evoked by Luis Gispert in his abstract sculptures inspired by contemporary youth culture’s material fetishization of fast cars and hip-hop music.