Anna McNay

Review of Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) at the ICA


Keep Your Timber
Limber (Works on Paper)

Curated by Sarah


19 June – 8 September

Turning the corner towards the ICA’s lower gallery this summer, the visitor finds himself entering the target range of an immense, phallic gun. This is sadly somewhat unsurprising, however, given
the ICA’s apparent remit to present art which will shock: such extreme efforts to bamboozle have come to be rather commonplace within its walls. Indeed, this
whole exhibition, consisting of works on paper by eight artists from the 1940s
to today, seems hell bent on creating a scandal. Perhaps it is simply trying too
hard, then, since, despite the serious intent of the artists to challenge
weighty political issues such as war and feminism, I was left, to be honest,
little more than bored.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a belief that as long as it
is making a political point, it doesn’t matter whether or not your art is any
good; puerile scribbles will suffice. And this is very clearly the case with
Judy Bernstein (born 1942), artist of the aforementioned gun, Fuck by Number (2013). The enormous
drawing, in black charcoal and red paint, depicts an erect penis/gun, with its testicles
as the barrel, shooting an American flag, and surrounded by statistics from the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, showing their horror and futility. Around the
corner are smaller charcoal drawings, likewise conflating sexual violence and
acts of war, and littered with crude verses and scribbles like those you might find
as graffiti in a public toilet.

Alongside Bernstein are works by Margaret Harrison (born
1940), recent winner of the Northern Art Prize. Her offerings are less violent,
but no less explicit. In Good Enough to
Eat (2)
(1971), for example, a dominatrix is sprawled between the slices of
bread in a sandwich, whilst in Dolly
Parton/Allen Jones
(2010), she kneels on all fours, supporting a table top,
as in Jones’ own subversive sculptures. Turning the gender balance tables,
there are also works like Captain America
(1997), where the comic superhero stands astride, displaying a tiny penis and
larger-than-life strap-on breasts. The graphic novel style of these drawings blends
well with their mix of humour and biting critique of male power.

Upstairs is largely male dominated, apart from Marlene McCarty’s
(born 1957) detailed ballpoint drawing of a gorilla enjoying illicit sexual
relations with two female scientists. Mike Kuchar (born 1942) presents equally
fantastical scenarios in his homoerotic phantasmagoria, commissioned for comic
publications such as Gay Heart Throbs.

As the “old master” of social and political critique through
art, George Grosz (1893-1959) also has a work on display: Stickmen Meeting Members of the Bourgeois (1946), in which a group
of grey, lifeless stickmen are shown aimlessly following two fat, ruddy, sweaty
members of the bourgeoisie, the contents of their bulging stomachs exposed to
show plentiful beer and meat.

Antonio Lopez (1943-1987) has been credited with influencing
the acceptance of diverse ethnicities into the fashion world, through his
hedonistic drawings for New York magazines, whilst Cary Kwok (born 1975), who
also trained in fashion, has filled nearly a whole room with biro drawings of
men at the moment of ejaculation. This, to me, far from shocking, is merely
mildly nauseating.

The final contributor is Tom of Finland (1920-1991) who
achieved cult status for his erotic drawings of homosexual male encounters, in
which his characters are uniformed servicemen, sailors, lumberjacks and biker
rebels. Again, these are technically well drawn, and perhaps they were
shocking at the time, but now, in an age of mass graphic bombardment, they come
across largely as if they were pages torn from a comic book.

Indeed, this exhibition considers the crossover between the commercial
and the aesthetic via the medium of drawing, as well as looking at how this has
been used to voice political and critical opinion. In some instances, there is
intricate detail; in others, childish scribblings. Quite why there needs, however,
to be such an overbearing focus on the pornographically explicit, I am not
sure. I’m all for freedom of speech and expression, and even for art that truly
shocks, but, in this case I was just glad to reach the end.


Judith Bernstein



charcoal, pastel on paper

41.5″ x 29.5″

Marlene McCarty

Group 8: (Karisoke, The Virungas, Rwanda. September 24, 1967. 4:30pm.)


ballpoint pen and graphite on paper

courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Mike Kuchar

Prehistoric Pets


courtesy of the artist, and François Ghebaly Gallery

George Grosz

Stickmen meeting members of the bourgeois


courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York

Antonio Lopez

Gianni Versace Campaign


© the Estate of Antonio Lopez

courtesy the Suzanne Geiss Company

Tom of Finland



© Tom of Finland Foundation, Incorporated