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Looking at a Naked Man: A Classical View
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Though any act of looking at and representing a naked man might in this sense be considered classical —and perhaps therefore traditionalist—I am interested in the playful and subversive ways in which West uses the art and myth of ancient Greece and Rome both to unpack the performance of male identity or of any gender and to challenge our complicity in that performance by exposing the absurdities and anxieties of our own act of looking. The former barbershop at has been transformed into a labyrinth of corridors and partitioned rooms punctuated by windows and doors, some more like secret peepholes, others only giving the illusion of access to hidden spaces beyond. Peering into one small window likewise brings us face to face with our own reflection, turning us from would-be Peeping Tom into Narcissus, the hapless youth of Greek myth who was so captivated by his own unrecognized reflection in a pool that he wasted away, unable to break his own love-struck gaze. Popular in Roman wall-painting, the best-known ancient telling of this myth is by the Augustan poet Ovid, who emphasizes the dangers of misdirected looking and lusting , and of an obsession with surface. It even extends to us, leaning too close to find a clearer angle, and catching our own eye looking back. Although the movements of model and mirror-image border on the erotic, they are combative, too. The Roman marble statue probably copies an earlier third-century BCE Greek bronze that commemorated the winner of a pankration competition and, as such, offers a model of ideal manliness that is macho, aggressive, hardened, and victorious.