Brian Moss: A Different Vision
During Sex and a Killer Clown
By Antoine du
NEW YORK, 24 December 2003—
Moss first came to the attention of the art world in an exhibition at New
York's New Museum for Contemporary Art in 2000. Entitled, Picturing the
Modern Amazon, the show focused on the representation of hyper-muscular and
physically strong women in popular culture and contemporary art. Several of
Moss' photographs of female bodybuilders figured along side work by Andres
Serrano, Renée Cox among others. At a recent show in Manhattan's Chelsea
district, the 46-year-old former Better Bodies Gym entrepreneur showed fifteen
of his black and white photos of professional male bodybuilders, taken from his
portfolio entitled Bodybuilding, USA.
At first glance, Moss'
images of male bodybuilders seem closer in spirit to the awe-inspiring
alabaster urns of Hellenist-period Etruscan art than the hackneyed
muscle-magazine images associated with this sport, or the equally trite
computer generated images from Hulk. A few photos delight with their wit
and irony—consider this one, of a bodybuilder with an open umbrella,
hailing a taxi in a posing suit and flip flops.
Most, however, shot in
bleak, non-descript hotel rooms or backstage during bodybuilding competitions,
shock not only because of the subject's muscular monumentality, but more
importantly, because of their inherent existential drama and their eloquent
commentary on the human condition. Brian Moss spoke to Culturekiosque about
Bodybuilding, USA, Women During Sex, a collection of images that depict
the moments before, during or after women's orgasms, and the conceptual series,
Culturekiosque: Where do
you come from in America?
I was born and raised in New York on the
upper West side of Manhattan.
And your parents?
Brian Moss: Also from New York: Brooklyn and Queens.
My father works in point of purchase advertising and my mother was a homemaker.
Mother was a mother.
CK:Where were you at school?
Brian Moss: Untitled
Brian Moss: New
York City Public School, followed by the High School of Music and Art. After
that, Syracuse University. My degree is in wildlife biology. I was a National
How did you navigate from a specialized school in
music and art to wildlife?
Moss:I just always loved the outdoors.
CK: Wouldn't it have been logical to
pursue your studies at a conservatory or fine arts
Brian Moss: One
would think. But I drew birds. I drew wildlife. I just knew that I wanted to be
outdoors.... I worked in The National Park Service... I was what they called
seasonal and as a seasonal employee, you had no benefits, no retirement. You
just came back every season. So, I left the Park Service and I was hired by the
Museum of Natural History and there I was involved with the education
department. I taught school children.
CK: Did you like teaching?
Brian Moss: It was wonderful. But
there is just no compensation for teachers unfortunately in this country. It is
the most important job in the world, but to live in New York City, it was
impossible to survive on what they paid.... And there was very little room for
CK:What happened then?
Brian Moss: I left
the museum to open up Better Bodies in 1982.
CK: You were training at
Brian Moss:I probably
thought I was a bodybuilder. I trained like a bodybuilder. But I think I had a
pretty realistic assessment of my genetics. Like any young guy, I trained to
look good. I was inspired by the magazines like any young kid.
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA
Brian Moss: Oh sure.
The Weider magazines, Muscle Digest, Muscle & Fitness. All
those inspired me.
How did you go from personal trainer to gym
Brian Moss: Probably
out of ignorance. I knew nothing about business. I also knew from my father's
input that it is best to be your own boss.... And then I just surveyed the
scene in the early eighties and didn't understand why there wasn't (sic) coed
gyms. Back then you had to train at a men's gym, a gay gym, to train hard. It
was either that or a health club.
CK:There is a difference between a men's gym
and a gay gym?
Brian Moss: Well
Sort of. In the eighties they were one and the same. West Side Bodybuilding
was, Sheridan Square was. They were considered gay gyms.... Straight
communities wanted health clubs, whereas the gay community understood hard
training. There was nothing fancy about those clubs. They were hard-core gyms.
That is what attracted me to them.
And I did not understand why women
could not train in those gyms.... They could be still predominantly
gay—that's cool—but why just men? And that is what gave me the idea
to open up a hard-core gym for men and women: Straight, gay, it didn't
matter—as long as you were hard-core and wanted to train hard.
CK: How would you
summarize your Better Bodies adventure?
Moss: It was the most amazing ride. What a wonderful time to be in
the gym world in the eighties—just beautiful. It was very pure. The people
attracted to it were not led to it by a magazine article.... Clearly, I saw the
trend. Although people insisted that I would never get women. Trust me, women
didn't want the little dumbbells in the corner.... In the 80s it was pretty
radical to say that women want to train alongside the 250 lb-guy. And they did.
For a moment in time, I had more women than men as members. ...
press book suggests that you were a favourite with the high-end style and
womens' magazines such as Vogue and Elle.
Brain Moss: Women During Sex
Brian Moss: Yeah, a
lot of that came out of my work with Elite. Somehow or other I was found by
Elite, the modeling agency. They called on me to get their girls in shape and
that sort of started this whole publicity blitz. At that moment in time working
out was hot. Models are hot. You put the two together and people want to know
how do models get in shape. So, I was training those girls....
CK: Having sold it,
do you miss Better Bodies?
Moss: No, the bloom was off the bush. I fell out of love. I saw what
was going on. The economics were changing. Independant or boutique clubs were
being bought out by really big companies—publicly traded companines. I
knew that I couldn't get into a pissing match with the big guys.... Also, the
gym clientele became a microcosm of the world: You had all kinds...and not for
the better. You had people stealing from lockers. I mean, my God, that
horrified me. I never had a theft. Everybody started working out. For me, that
wasn't a good thing. People came for all sorts of reasons: looking for dates,
social reasons etc. Sure socialization happened, but not ahead of your
workout.... In the 90s I am sure you remember the flood of articles: "Gyms, the
new bars". Give me a break!
Today, clubs are more extreme. It reminds me
of a drug addict needing more drugs to get a hit. Gyms have to push further and
further to draw or hold a clientele. Now, it's live DJs, hyperbolic,
oxygen-regulated chambers, strip classes. The public is not happy with just
working out. They need one more goddamn gimmick after another. I never had
gimmickery in what I did. It was so to-the-bone. I believe that is why it was
effective. And the right people saw that. Sure, there is probably a huge
population that wants gimmickry.... I just couldn't see myself hiring a DJ to
play music for my members. Honestly, it's all about basics. After a while you
realize that resistance is resistance, a dumbbell is a dumbbell. Granted some
of the equipment has gotten more ergonomically correct so it's better on the
joints. But at the end of the day, it's about squats, curls and presses and
some derivative of that.
So, I don't miss it. And I never mourned it,
which is evidence that it was truly the right decision to sell. Although I was
defined by Better Bodies, I felt the time was right and I was lucky to find a
buyer and not have to close my doors.
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images copyright © 2003 Brian Moss. Used with