Art review: ‘The History of Bruce’ at Stephen Cohen Gallery

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One of the best things about Pacific Standard Time, the Getty-sponsored sprawl of exhibitions that has been taking place across Southern California since October, is that it allows viewers to travel back to a time when art and big business had little in common.

That’s also true of “The History of Bruce: The Extraordinary Life & Times of Bruce of L.A., 1948-1974.” The exhibition of more than 60 photographs and two vitrines full of memorabilia, at Stephen Cohen Gallery, takes viewers to the golden age of Physique Photography. Back then, Bruce of L.A.’s photographs of handsome young men may have scandalized prudes. But today they seem sweet: utterly innocent and playfully wholesome.

Long before the Internet made all sorts of porn available 24/7, Bruce of L.A. marketed his signature pictures of oiled-up beefcakes the old fashioned way: first by mail-order advertisements in national magazines and then by publishing his own pint-size periodical, “The Male Figure.”

His 8-by-10s are gems. Their preposterous poses, silly props and threadbare setups do not get in the way of the guys, who seem pretty tickled to be having their pictures taken. Nothing explicit or untoward transpires in these endearing pictures, which traffic in anticipation and treat viewers as if our imaginations matter. That’s a lot more respect than we get from much of what passes for culture (and entertainment) today.



More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times

--David Pagel

Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., (323) 937-5525, through March 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays.