SOLUS: Considering Bachelorhood in America brings together work from seven contemporary artists whose depictions of the male alone, unaccompanied, provoke a reading that delves into bachelor subjectivity. Consideration of this once highly problematized social category—of being single, never married—remains in the margins of discourses concerned with the ways in which art conveys various identities. Art exhibitions on the subject of bachelorhood do not occur very often. The e-flux website, a repository of press releases from "nearly all the leading art museums, biennials, cultural centers, cultural centers, magazines, publishers, art fairs, and independent curators worldwide," produces just one record on the theme of singleness.1 Search returns in the research databases ARTbibliographies Modern and Art & Architecture Source are not pertinent to the matter.
On the other hand, there have been numerous exhibitions about two or more individuals considered together (American Couples: How Do We Look? at Munson-Willions-Proctor Arts Institute in 2011, and Thicker than Water: Family Concepts in Contemporary Art at Kunstpalais in 2016, for example). Art historians and theorists deliberate over the construction of culture, ethnicity, and sexuality, where factors such as marriage and parenthood regularly come into play. Bachelorhood is rarely taken into account, even though for many it was, and is still, an uneasy lived experience.
What do we perceive from depictions of a male on his own? Bachelorhood as either an attribute or concept is seen as visually limited. An article by Lai et al. (2015) discloses the visual limitedness of adult unmarried life. The authors argue that single men and women still struggle to negotiate their status vis-à-vis the commercial arena and society at large. The point is that never-married people still perceive market-driven pressures to conform to stereotypes that uphold marriage and then parenthood as the normative life course. Lai et al. call attention to the persistent exclusionary language of the marketplace. It is usually constituted around the notion of lack: the bachelor is different from the couple because something is missing—his other half. Other mediated messages hold that the single, independent male is abject: he is carrying on in a liminal state, failing to comply with the normative life course laid out for him.2
This exhibition was conceived as a way to think about and begin to discuss the visual representation of bachelorhood. The history of the bachelor class is long and complex; it is entwined with economy and politics. The artists discussed here summon that history and use various aesthetic codes to assert the male solus, alone or unaccompanied. I will map out an abbreviated history of the American bachelor in an attempt to highlight some of the resources available for its depiction. This path, which starts in 1750, turns to the 1850s and then the 1950s, will lead us to the present—the unmarried male now or in the time ahead. [NEXT PAGE]
SOLUS: Considering Bachelorhood in America
July 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019
This online-only exhibition has been curated by Jason Derouin, candidate in the Fine Arts Doctoral Program of the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual Arts in the School of Art.
1. (n.d.). About e-flux. Retrieved from http://e-flux.com/about
2. Ai-Ling Lai, Ming Lim and Matthew Higgins, "The Abject Single: Exploring the Gendered Experience of Singleness in Britain," Journal of Marketing Management 31, no. 15–16 (2015), 1575.