Waldo has worked as a server at a lot of parties, but until Saturday night’s opening party at Vitruvian Gallery, he’s never done it without a shirt on.
Outfitted in snug black pants and a bow tie, the young Bulgarian transplant works the gallery with a plate of cheese and crackers. Few patrons in the 15-square-foot pulsing sea of men resist Waldo’s tray.
“I am famous model in Bulgaria,” Waldo says modestly, tossing his early-Bieber brown hair out of his eyes. It’s his modeling work that’s prepared him to field so many glances, and perhaps the fact that none of the painted men on walls have shirts on either.
The oil portraits of male nudes, done by Alexandria artist Rob Vander Zee, represent the vision of Vitruvian: all male figurative work, all the time.
How a gallery with such a narrow focus will thrive financially is a question on many of the party-goers’ minds, but such concerns are secondary to their happiness that such a gallery exists. Several artists in the packed space speak to the difficulty of displaying male nudes in D.C., or even finding male nudes to paint.
“It’s hard when you go to figure drawing class to find men,” says artist Vincent Hughes. “Eighty percent of the models are women. Teachers tend to get female models because that’s what they’re comfortable with.”
Hughes previously showed his work at a Capitol Hill gym up the road that’s known to be gay friendly. He says a staffer wouldn’t allow him to show male nudes in the space. “She said this is a family gym,” he recalls. “I said, uh, what kind of family are you talking about?”
“Washington needs something like this,” he continues, glancing at the sculpted Waldo as he sashays by with a plate of grapes. “It’s the only gallery you can go to and see shirtless men.”