New York

Bruce Weber

Robert Miller Gallery

You don’t see many good bodies in art anymore, many healthy, powerful, heroic bodies. Good bodies are sort of taboo. Arnold Schwarzenegger is okay the way he is, but made out of marble he’d be a Nazi.

Let’s face it, the Nazis sort of queered fit and handsome for art. Expressionism, the stuff they trashed, gave shapes to the lyric “everything is beautiful in its own way.” “In its own way” is the catch phrase there. If something is beautiful not in its own way, then one way it can be beautiful is in a classical way, and that’s no longer thought beautiful.

Bruce Weber doesn’t care about this stuff. He likes What he likes, beautiful people. He’s into the romance of the body. He is not Leni Riefenstahl, nor will he be unless we bomb the hell out of somebody after the Olympics. Weber is the artist of the body beautiful, of how it got that way, of what it is and what it does.

Bodies are intimately associated with characters, and Weber studies that association. Character is written on these faces. John Younger of the Notre Dame crew exudes a remarkable calm. John Mitchel, a Miami boxer, exhibits the strange intensity of his sport—power combined with delicacy. Tommy Yeater, a young rodeo cowboy, embodies charming naughtiness; his expression defies laughter at his youth.

Almost all of these pictures are full-body character studies. A few flirt with controversy or explore an ambiguity. A handsome young man with a butch haircut looks weary. His face is blackened below a line that must have been made by a helmet. Is it combat makeup or racetrack grime? Is it Vietnam or country steeplechase?

Sergeant Bill Pellerin of Texas A & M throws a football, bare chested. With his flattop he is a quarterback archetype—this could be the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s. Often these athletes seem to be from another era. Tiff Wood, a rower, could be a ’30s matinee idol, another Gary Cooper.

What does one make of this: two army women wear riding helmets, boots, and britches; one is down on all fours; the other, riding crop in hand, stands on her back. It’s kinky, it’s a joke, but it’s true. It’s privates Elizabeth and Leslie Deutsch, modern-pentathlon athletes. We are rather shocked, after all, to see humor in uniform.

Weber likes uniforms and uniformed youth. There is something shocking about it. The shock seems to come from seeing the humanity there, the smile beneath the helmet. Weber tells the shocking truth: the body is beautiful, sports are good, self-defense is natural. Gold medal for photography.

Glenn O’Brien