Friday, November 21, 2008

Cary “Candyass” Leibowitz

I’ve been looking all week for a gay male artist whose work is not about the magnificent male physique, and who has become increasingly well known during the final decade of the 20th and first decade of the 21st centuries. Today, I found him, and it shouldn’t have been so difficult as he has achieved certain notoriety in the Art World. Born in 1963, Candyass, A.K.A. Cary Leibowitz is 19 years younger than myself, a mere child at forty-four. However, he has accomplished a body of work that is consistent in its subtle and humorous ironic dissing of cultural norms such as gender, masculinity, sexuality, ethnicity, and the commodification of all these. His artwork consists of cheaply produced groups of found objects that he alters with hand painted or printed slogans containing stereotypical, and humorous reference to the above mentioned “cultural norms.” These clichés, often self-deprecating, subtly refer to cultural tropes that allow the shabby objects to carry a much broader and ironic cultural signification.

Candyass’s artworks have as antecedents "ready made" objects such as Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), Picasso’s Bull’s Head (1942), and Joseph Cornell’s much more elegant assembled constructions based in saved and found objects. So, Leibowitz has a rather special historical lineage in the Art World that lends a degree of legitimacy to the work not obtained by many other works. In fact Cary Leibowitz functions in the rarified intellectual atmosphere Duchamp claimed for himself through all his ready made objects.

How so you may ask. Well, his chosen moniker “Candyass” is an ironic reference to the stereotyping of gay males as pansy, swish, faggot, fem, fruitcake, candy-ass, and so on. Thus, his “chosen” name functions as an exact reversal of Duchamp’s “Fountain.” *2 Duchamp by so signifying the urinal, removed the actual object from it’s mundane cultural location and purpose to place it in the rarified atmosphere of Public Art. Instead Leibowitz uses the chosen label "Candyass" to remove his legitimate personal identify and place it in the realm of debased cultural stereotyping. I am inclined to feel a bit legitimized myself (finally) in the separation of Twenty-first Century Gay Male Art into two categories – 1) art about the magnificent male physique, and 2) art about a special “gay male vision and its relation to gay male sexuality” – because of “Candyass” alone. Though in this context we are also talking about gay male vision and its relation to cultural texts mirrored in the individual. Thus, I may have found a third but extremely complex and subtle differentiation in the gay male artist’s approach to art production.

In any event, I’m loving Carl Candyass Leibowitz!


*1 Objects from "Accumulated Crap for Collectors," 1989 to 2005, at Clifford-Smith Gallery,, viewed 12:41 A.M. EST, Saturday, November 22, 2008. (It is known that one time use of images for scholarly purposes is acceptable in most circumstances.)

*2 The Concept of reversal to which I refer here was developed by Jacques Derrida in the following texts, and amplified by others including Jean-Francois Lyotard.

Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976)

The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoffrey Bennington & Ian McLeod (Chicago & London: Chicago University Press, 1987).

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