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How Paintings of Wrestlers Depict Male Intimacy

Painter Carroll Dunham is well known for his unflattering depictions of nude women—often faceless, with pronounced sex organs and stringy hair. Since he began painting them in his “Bathers” series in the mid-aughts (posed amid pools, flowers, and secluded natural landscapes), he’s received both significant acclaim and criticism. At a public conversation, his wife, photographer Laurie Simmons, once asked him outright, “What is it with all the female genitalia? Are you a pervert? Are you a feminist? What’s going on?” He didn’t, apparently, have a definitive answer. In 2014, Dunham seemingly renounced the charged subject matter, but began drawing and painting equally grotesque, unflattering male nude wrestlers.  

On April 20, Gladstone Gallery mounts 11 of these canvases. Some of the scenes are nocturnes; others feature a large, round sun. In four paintings, a single wrestler lies on the ground, while Mud Men (2017) depicts one man patting another on the back in a kind of peaceful accord. Perhaps the most significant canvas, Any Day (2017), neatly links the body of work to his previous “Bathers,” as it includes a female nude in the background (the only canvas to do so). Any Day is quintessential Dunham, featuring the cartoonish forms, pronounced genitalia, lush setting, and glaring palette that have become the artist’s hallmark. Dunham described the work to Artsy as a kind of “summing up” that offered him a sense of inner resolution...

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