DEVOTION: Excavating Bob Mizer will be the first major institutional solo presentation of Bob Mizer's work to be shown anywhere in the world. The exhibition will present 45 black and white and color photographs spanning the artist’s career.
While Mizer is known primarily for pioneering what is now widely regarded as "Beefcake" photography, via his company the Athletic Model Guild (AMG) and his publication Physique Pictorial, this genre is only one of many that he pursued over the course of nearly 50 years of creative production.
Mizer never shared this other side of his photographic practice, which he maintained independently of AMG, and thus the vast majority of these images remain unknown, unseen, and unprinted. DEVOTION delves exclusively in to the many recently unearthed and expansive bodies of work that Mizer produced privately for himself. A significant portion of the material serves as an unprecedented document of American cultural history, recording popular and subcultural “types” and “scenes” to emerge between the 1940s and 1990s including “nature boys”, beatniks, greasers, female and male body builders, beauty queens, soldiers, religious figures, magicians, circus performers, Hollywood actresses, gang members, cowboys, hippies, hustlers and their girlfriends, punks, new wavers, drifters, farm boys, surfers, druggies, construction workers, artists, activists, ex-cons, and would-be politicians, among others, in addition to formal studio portraits of men, women, children, and animals.
Mizer also staged a remarkable series of photographs employing both AMG models and their girlfriends posed in abstract, surreal, and politically provocative tableaux, for which he often constructed elaborate sets and costumes. These photographs retain Mizer's exploration of eroticism; however, they complicate the functionality and more standard conventional erotic appeal of AMG beefcake images, instead evidencing the complexity of Mizer’s personal desires and imagination, as well as a clearly deeply intuitive and experimental process.
The previously unknown bodies of work sampled in the exhibition are indicative of The Bob Mizer Foundation’s continuing effort to preserve the entirety of the artist’s life and work. In addition to the exhibition’s presentation of printed photographs, a large portion of the Mizer estate—which consists of well over a million negatives and slides, three thousand films, and thousands of objects—will be shipped to NYC and installed at 80WSE. The galleries will contain large worktables with light boxes and archiving equipment. Throughout each day of the exhibition, students from the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions will work on organizing and returning negatives to Mizer's original order, scanning transparencies, and cataloging the archive for preservation.
Due to the sheer volume of photographic material in the estate, there are literally thousands of unopened envelopes, whose contents remain a mystery. Thus, the students contributing to this epic archival endeavor will be the first people to see these images since Mizer himself shot them. The public nature of the archiving process affords visitors to the exhibition the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the new bodies of work being discovered. A selection of images unearthed through the archiving process will be printed, displayed, and changed daily. Students from the Department’s Costume Studies program will work on conserving the vast array of costumes, clothing, and props, which were central to the staging of many of the photographs included in the exhibition.
Curated by: Billy Miller and Jonathan Berger in collaboration with Dennis Bell of The Bob Mizer Foundation