80 Washington Square East, NYU

Bob Mizer

Devotion: Excavating Bob Mizer

November 23, 2013 – February 15, 2014


The first major institutional solo presentation of Bob Mizer's work shown anywhere in the world. The exhibition was organized by Billy Miller and Jonathan Berger in collaboration with Dennis Bell of The Bob Mizer Foundation and students and faculty from the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions.
Bob Mizer was born in Hailey Idaho in 1922, relocating with his mother, and later his brother, to Los Angeles in 1927 where he continued to live and work until his death in 1992. The exhibition presented 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 unique 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 erotica; however, they complicate the functionality and more conventional appeal of the genre, instead evidencing the complexity of his own personal desires and imagination, through what is 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 what is estimated to be nearly two million negatives and slides, three thousand films, and thousands of objects—will be shipped to NYC and installed at 80WSE. The galleries contained large worktables with light boxes and archiving equipment and throughout each day of the exhibition, students from the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions worked on processing the archive for preservation; scanning negatives and returning them to Mizer’s original order.
Due to the sheer volume of photographic material in the estate, there were thousands of unopened envelopes, whose contents remain a mystery. Thus, the students contributing to this epic archival endeavor will be the first 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 new bodies of work as they are discovered. A selection of images unearthed through the archiving process were 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.
This act of excavating Mizer’s work is, by extension, an excavation of his life. Each image serves as a contribution towards building a biography for this enigmatic American photographer; arguably one of the most compelling and prolific cultural producers and documentarians of the 20th century.

The is a corner of a room, the floor is wooden and empty. The walls are white and the lighting is dim. There is a black and white framed photograph on the right wall that has the only light turned on shining on it. On the left wall there is a white floor to ceiling shelving unit filled with clothing and boxes of printed photographs. To the right of the shelving unit this is a white ladder leaning against the wall.
There is a hallway and to the hallway’s left we see the corner of a room. The wooden floor  and corner of the room is empty. On the left perpendicular wall to the hallway there is a framed black and white photograph of a cat laying on a bed. On the right parallel wall to the hallway there is text on the wall that has “DEVOTION” the name of the exhibition, and “Excavating Bob Mizer” the artists whose works is in the exhibition. Following these titles is paragraphs of text that provide a biography for the artist.
There is a room with a table in its center. The table is filled with unprinted photographs and negatives that two students are working to develop. On the right parallel wall to the table there are two small framed black and white photographs side by side. The back wall perpendicular to the table has a larger framed black and white portrait photograph of a man. Above the photograph of the man is a quote that wraps around onto the left parallel wall to the table.
There is a white walled room with concrete floors. In the middle of the room is a table with a sheet of fabric laid over it and a desktop on it. There is also a student working on unrolling prints. The wall to the back that it perpendicular to the table has a line of framed black and white photos that continue onto the adjoined perpendicular left wall. Above the photographs is a quote that also follows from the back wall onto the left adjoined perpendicular wall.
There is an open floor plan that has a room with half length walls that show the room behind it. In the more forward room the concrete floor is empty and the two visible white walls feature black and white framed photographs. There are three small photographs on the wall parallel to the camera, and one larger photograph on the right perpendicular wall. Above the photographs isa quote the spans both of the walls. In the room behind this one is a table with a student working to develop and print photographs. On the wall parallel to the camera in this room there is a colorful photo that features a vibrant blue.
There is a room with two tables spanning the center of the floor. The table is white and there are two chairs in front of two computers that are placed on top of the table. Also on the table is equipment for developing and printing photographs. On the right parallel wall to the table there are two framed photographs. The one to the right depicts a man laying in foliage while the left one depicts a landscape, both are in color. On the perpendicular wall to the table there is one colorful portrait photograph centered on the wall, this is also in color. Above this picture is a quote written in black text.
 A student looks at strips of photographic film on top of a Lightbox as she prepares them to be developed. Perpendicular to the table she is on is a wall with a quote printed on it. On the left wall parallel to the Lightbox table is a colored photograph of a man laying in foliage. On the right parallel wall to the Lightbox table there are clotheslines and pins placed to hold drying freshly developed photos.
A student examines photographic film sheets on top a Lightbox. On the wall behind her there are small square photographs tacked to the wall.