In this exhibition we concentrate on how machismo’s presence haunts contemporary art practice. This vast topic is embedded in Western art’s history, in its representations of power and strength and in displays of technical virtuosity. Machismo’s iconography is both weighty and light.
It traces to the ancient gods, Apollo, Heracles, Hermes, Dionysius, Pan and Bacchus; wisdom, power and strength, to masculine beauty in conflict and to emasculation. MACHISMO creates a dialogue between selected sculptures from the Santarelli Collection and thirteen contemporary male artists across generations from Belgium, Italy, India, the Netherlands, USA and the UK, who in different ways interrogate and critique iconographies of machismo. The media of film, sound, painting, performance and sculpture in works by Bas Jan Ader, Marcel Broodthaers, Gino De Dominicis, Jeff Gibbons, Emiliano Maggi, Michael O’Mahony, Luigi Ontani, Cesare Pietroiusti, Gianni Politi, Robert Rauschenberg, Prem Sahib, Raja Ram Sharma and Franco Troiani, experienced in juxtaposition with the ancient sculptures, creates new dialogues with the construct of machismo.
As women, we are interested in how men’s celebrations of masculinity might present an implicit critique of the negative associations of the macho, while enabling a reflective, open and more tentative exploration of the term. The word ‘machismo’ is the Spanish term for masculinity and ‘macho’ is simply man. Since the 1940s its widespread use is applied to toughness and virility. It suggests a desire for the invincible; it infers power and courage. Other macho traits such as presence of mind, stoicism, and bravery are overlooked by the negative associations. To speak about macho necessarily implies gender. It is difficult to speak about gender without inflections of fluidity and ambiguity. We are looking at a masculinity that may deal with its feminine as well as its masculine nature, but that aspect is not necessarily the main focus of intention. How difficult is it for a troubled masculinity, a masculinity under siege, to be gentle, or ironic or ambiguous? How possible is it to remain masculine while simultaneously rendering a critique of its performative gestural nature?
Critiques of patriarchy over the past sixty years have redressed gender driven assumptions in many ways. The current preoccupations arising from #MeToo and ‘toxic masculinity’ bring these urgent considerations more pressingly into the public domain. In some discourses the negative connotations of ‘machismo’ have eclipsed the definition, so that it becomes difficult to speak of without a disclaimer.
This exhibition takes place in Rome. Various myths of the Founding of Rome told by the ancient Romans as the earliest histories of their city are relevant to understanding the intertwining relationships between machismo’s histories with that of the city. These stories survive today. The most famous is the story of Romulus and Remus, the infant twins who were suckled by a she-wolf in the 8th century BC. Another earlier account claims that the Romans were descended from Aeneas, the Trojan War hero, who escaped to Italy, and whose son, Ascanio, was the ancestor of Julius Caesar and Augustus. The ancient Romans were certain of the day Rome was founded: April