A woman walked into a gay bar and didn’t like the gay art.
Ric Crete, a bartender who came up with the idea to showcase a group art exhibition in Centretown Pub’s basement bar, decided to move some of the artwork to the bar’s main level. He was hanging a work from local artist Glenn Crawford’s Paper Dudes collection on the wall in early November when a female customer objected.
“She felt offended by that, which I respected,” Crete tells Daily Xtra. “I said not a big deal, but I’m not taking them off the wall in the bar downstairs. That’s where the art show is . . . I can’t please everybody and instead of fighting with her for three hours, I just removed it, which is not a big deal.”
“It was my judgment call and I explained that to Glenn and he understood,” Crete says.
Crete put Crawford’s artwork back in the basement bar with the rest of the art. Launched in October, 2015, the exhibit features work by local artists including Crawford, Brian Potvin, Simon Horsefield, JP Bissonnette and Sheldon Myette. The project doubles as a fundraiser for the Canadian AIDS Memorial Quilt, and all the artists have agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from the artwork they sell.
Paper Dudes is inspired by archetypal images of men from porn and features three-dimensional figures of male nudes made out of paper. While exploring the persistent depictions of gay men — bears, twinks, daddies and jocks — Crawford says his work also seeks to challenge those stereotypical depictions.
“The great thing about working with cut and folded paper is that it reduces the models to basic shapes and shadows of dark and light,” he says. “What this does is it removes many of the physical characteristics that men who are attracted to men define and label each other as, such as skin colour [or] race, age, amount and colour of body hair, and other so-called standards of beauty.”
Ultimately, the artwork encourages queer men to think about the extent to which they participate in objectification, Crawford adds.
“We objectify others and yet we also therefore are objectified ourselves,” he says. “It’s an interesting thing that happens with the attraction of men to men that maybe is different in straight culture.”
Crawford says he would have liked an opportunity to talk to the woman who was offended by his artwork, to explain his ideas and influences. While tastes vary — and he wouldn’t consider Paper Dudes appropriate for all spaces — he’s surprised a person would be so offended by paper penises in a gay bar.
“I feel that my art is art, it’s not pornography,” Crawford says. “I’m not actually showing photography or sort of explicit male nudes. They are in provocative positions and some of the models are erect, but you know I say it’s paper.”
Crawford is grateful CP is showing his work and he doesn’t challenge management’s authority to place the art where they see fit. Still, he says having his work moved to the basement based on one customer’s complaint opens an interesting discussion about art, censorship and navigating boundaries in queer spaces.
“It’s interesting that you come into a gay-friendly space and you see something that is gay and sex-positive and you’re surprised and sort of offended by that,” he says. “To me, it’s unusual.”
While CP is home to events like Underwear & Jocks Leather Party, Crete says the bar strives to be welcoming to all patrons.
“It is still a gay bar, but we have to be respectful of whoever walks through that door,” he says. “It is the longest running gay bar, but like we have straight people coming in. We have a lot of people coming in, so it’s not only a gay bar. It’s a straight bar as well because there’s straight people who come here all the time.”
For Crete, the issue of moving Crawford’s artwork back to the basement isn’t significant because the entire group exhibition is now in the basement bar.
“We have six artists down here right now and I have two more coming in January,” says Crete, whose own artwork is part of the group exhibition. “It’s a beautiful space now and we’ve repainted the lower bar to put that in. We’re going to be doing major renovations to the main level, so we can’t really start putting things up there.”
Although CP’s basement bar is only open on Friday and Saturday nights, the art exhibition is going well and the artists are selling their work, Crete adds.
Crawford confirms his Paper Dudes pieces have been selling, and he’s in talks with a Toronto business about showing his work.
“So far the sales I have had were thanks to a mix of my promotion through social media and through them being displayed at CP, but the folks who have bought pieces did so after also seeing them at the bar,” he says. “I have sold two there so far, and have at least one or two other sales lined up.”
For people who haven’t seen the exhibition yet, Crete encourages them to attend a Meet the Artists evening, and to stay tuned for more art in the new year.