“Showing a man with his dick out is also activism”: Aesthetics and advocacy in Groningen’s all-male nude art gallery

The gallery MooiMan ( in Dutch “Beautiful men”) was founded in 2006 by Jan van Stralen and Sandro Kortekaas. During the years it has hosted a series of exhibitions and featured hundreds of artists. It’s one of the only three galleries in the world ( the other ones being in Paris and Berlin) devoted to male nude art.

Jan Van Stralen about the beginnings of the gallery

“The Boys” – as he familiarly calls them –  is one of Jan van Stralen’s favourite works of art. He keeps it in his studio, a space that’s not yet an art gallery but already feels like one.

The statue represents two young men, staring into each other eyes. Jan and Sandro found it in the 80s during a holiday in Brighton. It’s actually called “Face off” and it’s a work of the British artist Eve Shepherd.

What Jan loves the most about “The Boys” is that it represents a moment of suspension: “They are simply looking at each other. But because they are standing so still, you’re left wondering what is going to happen: are they going to fight? Are they going to kiss?”

While the author of this statue is a woman -“A lesbian! When I discovered it, I was so surprised”, Jan says –  the great majority of the artworks exposed at MooiMan belong to gay men artists. Their solely subject: the male body.

In the different representations of the virile body, the artists selected by Jan and Sandro do not seem to worry about the diversity of the human shape. Instead, they perpetually celebrate an ideal beyond space and time, that goes back to ancient Greece.

Always vigorous and dashing. Sometimes dreamy, sometimes lascivious, the bodies that inhabit the gallery are intended mostly as objects of desire. They incarnate a sense of untangible longing, while revealing the inadequacy of matter to fully imprison its essence.

The triumph of a long-time shamed and suppressed desire does not come without scandal.

“We will show some artworks that will make people talk or turn the heads the other way”, Jan explains. “Also showing naked men with their dicks out is, in fact, a kind of activism.”

Jan and Sandro scandalized for example in 2013, when a series of cultural events and official visits were held in honour of the 400 years anniversary of Dutch-Russian diplomatic relationships. MooiMan participated to the celebrations with an exhibition devoted to Russian gay artists. “In Russia male nude art is automatically considered as pornography while nude art representing women…well, it’s art”, Jan explains.

The gallerists went to Russia, where they met some artists in safe places and brought the best paintings home to the Netherlands. They could be officially part of the Dutch-Russian year and their exhibition was mentioned also on the Russian website of the event. According to Jan, that’s a small contribution in the fight for LGBT+ rights in Russia.

One of Jan’s biggest accomplishments was for their gallery to be accepted in the snobbish world of art fairs. He remembers that when they first started many turned up their noses. But now there’re always welcomed in art fairs. “We have to do our best more the every other galleries, because they are judging us for every inch”, he says.

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