HAPTIC FEEDBACK at Thomas Schulte Gallery / Berlin

HAPTIC FEEDBACK at Thomas Schulte Gallery / Berlin


UNTIL 22 FEB 2020


Galerie Thomas Schulte presents a group exhibition featuring works by nine artists who explore our changing perceptions of reality, identity, and a shift in mental space. Haptic Feedback deals with the changing psychological relationship to physical space and our sense of belonging and touch under the influence of digital technologies.

Iñigo Manglano, Ovalle – Die Hütte / The Hut 2013-2020, Charred Cedar 350x350x400 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Thomas Schulte

The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Philadelphia-based artist of the gallery, David Hartt.
The term “haptic feedback” dates backto the late 1990s and was first used by computer game developers who installed haptic technologies within game controllers. These technologies create a tactile experience by applying forces, vibration and movement to the user. Simple versions are for example the vibrating of the phone in response to manual input or the rumbling of the controller during computer games.

David Hartt / Negative Space, 2019 / tapestry, 290 x 515 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Thomas Schulte

Today however, haptic feedback is understood more as a form of communication between man and machine than a specific technological application. It involves everything from the creation of a sense of presence, an emotional connection and affects our well-being and how we explore and interact with objects. At a time, when intimacy is increasinglydefined by touch screen interactions,the works in the exhibition can be seen as explorations and as the reaffirmation of the importance of haptic feedback in relation to our physical and bodily identity. The exhibition features works by Walead Beshty, David Hartt, Carolyn Lazard, Maria Loboda, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Jean-Luc Moulène, Michael Müller, Julia Phillips and Wilmer Wilson IV.

King Dogs Never Grow Old

King Dogs Never Grow Old

Diane Rosenstein Gallery, Los Angeles

4 January – February 1, 2020

Diane Rosenstein Gallery announces King Dogs Never Grow Old, a group exhibition curated by Brooke Wise. The show will include paintings, sculpture, ceramics, works on paper, and tufted wall hangings by Ginny Casey, Sam Crow, Tom of Finland, Haley Josephs, Jillian Mayer, Haley Mellin, Robert Moreland, Rose Nestler, Scott Reeder, Matthew Sweesy, Chris Wolston and Bri Williams. The show’s title is borrowed from André Breton and Philippe Soupault’s surrealist text Les Champs Magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields). It alludes to exploring the nonsensical and the dreamlike unconscious. The work on view will share a common dialogue and aim to explore these surrealist notions in a contemporary manner.

Rose Nestler, “Gym Shorts,” 2019

Jillian Mayer and Haley Josephs use color and whimsy to address these surrealist concepts. Mayer’s interactive Slumpies invite the viewer to sprawl out and engage with their smart phones while laying on “deformed rock[s], repeatedly vandalized with paint.” Josephs employs bright and fantastical elements in her paintings, suggesting a world that may never be realized. Ginny Casey draws inspiration from classic Walt Disney cartoons and welcomes the spectator with distorted, absurd and disproportioned objects, which play with our restrictions of logic and time.

Rose Nestler, “Deep Pockets,” 2019

Exploring anatomical surrealism, Tom of Finland celebrates sexuality, fantasy, and the body in all areas of human endeavor. Scott Reeder and Matthew Sweesy both use comedy and rhetoric in their paintings. Reeder, known for his ceramic work and text- based paintings, represents everyday objects, reimagined as fine art. Paintings that exist as mundane and hand drawn lists allow the unconscious to express itself in a permanent state. Sweesy, who paints dreamlike sequences, uses humor to promote cultural critique, as seen in Hunter, where the artist himself is seen as both the hunter and the hunted.

Scott Reeder, “Band Names,” 2014

Chris Wolston’s Nalgona chairs are humanized by his addition of wicker body parts. Sam Crow’s tufted wall works skew our sense of reality and attempt to destroy our sense of stability in her usage of geometric shapes and dimension. Rose Nestler’s soft sculptures explore the body as the subconscious mind. Her unsettling and dreamlike sculptures are informed by the notion of shame, the classic childhood fears of showing up to class naked or menstruating through one’s pants. Bri Williams uses found objectsoften with personal associations, to evoke a potent, psychic mood. Through crafting and composition, Williams allows her objects to embody the the abstract: the incommunicability of pain and our inherited mythical figures.

Matt Sweesy, “Daphne In Repose,” 2019

Minimalist artist Robert Moreland reinvents his canvas into the space between painting and sculpture, while Haley Mellin’s small paintings reinvent mundane objects such as a Warholian banana floating in space. Through comedy, rhetoric, sarcasm and the uncanny, these works all share a common discourse about surrealism, the unexpected and the unconventional.

All images > Courtesy Diane Rosenstein Gallery, Los Angeles



kamel mennour, London

December 12 – January 25, 2020

Painting is first of all the liquid, aqueous material binding together the different fields of David Hominal’s practice, from performance to video, dance to sculpture. This is where he takes stock, sorts, and synthesises, but it is also where he covers over, a territory made up of a complex network of inhibitions. His disturbed, at times feverish paintings are haunted by the great historical questions of representation. Their presence is powerful, rehearsing all the grand traditions, from still life to abstraction, without, of course, ever reconciling them.

Recently, sunflowers, pineapples, onions, and finally faces have been appearing on the surface of his canvases. What emerges from the paint in the series being exhibited at kamel mennour in London are hands joined in prayer. As was already clear in his earlier series of masks, Hominal’s interest for the image makes short work of regimes of seeing, communication, and transmission. From religious tradition to emoticons, his totems are evocative of an emotive, hyper-presence of the image. In an incredibly gymnastic play between the long-past and the hyper-present, these hands are just as much Albrecht Dürer’s Praying Hands as those we add to our text messages to say ‘plz’ or ‘thnx’.

While such a tension is characteristic of David Hominal’s work in general, this is also one of his first ‘almost’ figurative series. And the ‘almost’ is important here because it is synonymous with resistance. Though the hands are a symbol of contemplation, Hominal is not at peace with painting. Ultimately, what interests him is doing, the gesture of painting—both on an historical scale, like a great repetition, and on an intimate scale, like an obsession. Copy, sequence, ritualise. NISSAN, GAZPROM, RESPECT, NO SUGAR, PRICELESS, MASTERCARD are all visual impressions, furtive images permeating us as we watch sport on TV, for instance. The title of the exhibition relates to its content like interference. The messages repeat over and over again like a song we can’t get out of our head. The praying hands are an archetype. They are universal images. Hominal is reaching for them through a form of pure cultural syncretism, a pure incarnation of representation, a pure contradiction. PRICELESS / MASTERCARD.

Born in 1976 in France, DAVID HOMINAL lives and works in Berlin. His work has been shown
in a large number of solo and group exhibitions in France, including the Palais de Tokyo and the Centre culturel suisse in Paris, the Consortium in Dijon, and Magasin in Grenoble; as well as abroad, including the Musée Jenisch in Vevey, the Centre d’édition contemporaine and the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva, the Swiss Institute
and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, Fri Art in Fribourg, the Kunsthalle Bern, the Kunsthaus Zürich and the CAC–Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius.

© David Hominal. Photo. archives kamel mennour. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris/London

James Casebere: On The Waters’ Edge

James Casebere: On The Waters’ Edge

Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

December 13 – January 25, 2020

In this arresting new series of images, Casebere continues his ever-evolving exploration of form at the intersection of architecture, sculpture and photography. In previous, well-known bodies of work, the artist depicted buildings and interiors based primarily on extant structures; this series, however, is distinguished by a marked change in Casebere’s conceptual approach. To create these salient new images, Casebere became the architect, often designing and building the structures he produced and then photographed.

Over the course of forty years, James Casebere has developed a unique and increasingly complex language of “constructed photography” in which he builds structural models, which he then lights and photographs. Based on art historical, cinematic and architectural sources, his table-sized constructions are made of simple materials and pared down to essential forms. Throughout his practice, Casebere’s images have expanded to accommodate his exploration of different aesthetic and technical challenges. For instance, Casebere’s previous series of images, inspired by world-renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragán, embraced modernist architecture’s use of space, color and light to create images that engendered warmth, meditation, and reflection. In this new body of work, Casebere continues with a nod to the influence of Barragán, but also architect Paul Rudolph in his visionary mid-century modern Florida homes and later shift to Brutalism. In these images, Casebere re-imagines both the context and the content of the original structures.

The works in this series are hybrids of public/private spaces. Geometrically designed edifices rendered in a rich and vibrant palette; these buildings appear simultaneously concrete and abstract; they are open, even unfinished buildings of the sort that provide sanctuary, such as beach houses, cabanas, bathhouses. Neither utopian nor dystopian, these images are meant to inspire an appreciation of pure beauty coupled with a twinge of uncertainty. Indeed, in these unmoored, flooded pavilions, Casebere sees human ingenuity in the face of global warming. Acknowledging the imminent unknown future these pictures embody, he also insists that we “can’t afford to throw our hands up in…resignation.” In fact, Casebere acknowledges that these structures are about tenacity, adaptation, ingenuity, and perhaps, optimism, describing them by saying, “there is such a playful atmosphere to them. It feels like an expression of the indomitable human spirit. These things could be rising out of the water like the first creatures to emerge from the sea and live on solid ground.”

James Casebere is the winner of the American Academy in Rome Abigail Cohen Rome Prize Fellowship for 2019-20.  In addition, he has been the recipient of three awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, three from the New York Foundation for the Arts and one from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. His work is featured in international museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Goetz Collection, Munich, Germany; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Mukha Museum, Antwerp, Belgium; the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; the Los Angeles County Museum; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, amongst many others. In 2016, Casebere was a New York Foundation for the Arts Hall of Fame Honoree and the subject of the important survey exhibitions: Fugitive, at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, curated by Okwui Enwezor; Immersion, at Espace Images Vevey in Switzerland; and After Scale Model: Dwelling in the Work of James Casebere, at the BOZAR/Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. James Casebere lives and works in New York.

James Casebere’s photographs will be featured in the forthcoming group exhibition Paradise Lost – Gazing at Contemporary Urban Civilization and its Metaphor at the JUT Art Museum, Taipei, Taiwan, on view December 21, 2019 – April 5, 2020.

All images > courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery, New York and the artist.

Andrew Norman Wilson, Lavender Town Syndrome

Andrew Norman Wilson, Lavender Town Syndrome

ORDET, Milan

4 December – 1 February, 2020

Ordet presents “Lavender Town Syndrome”, a solo show by Andrew Norman Wilson. The exhibition is centered around Z = |Z/Z•Z-1 mod 2|-1, a multichannel video work commissioned by Ordet. In this new work Wilson uses three different imaging technologies—a photographic lens, photorealistic ray tracing animations, and fractal ray-marching animations—to zoom through three constructed environments.
The first section employs a 75mm to 1500mm Canon telephoto lens developed for wildlife cinematography. This uncannily prolonged zoom moves from a cityscape view to details on a single balcony of Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City, a lotus-shaped oddity of “organic architecture” amidst Chicago’s thoroughly rectangular built environment that has been featured in movies such as I, RobotSource CodeThe Dark Knight, and Transformers 3

The second section employs 8K photorealistic computer generated materials commonly used in architectural renders, video games, and the motion picture industry. These “physically based rendering” (PBR) materials are sold through the online database Substance Source, in which the surfaces of metals, plastics, rocks, and more are previewed as spherical forms. The third section was procedurally generated using fractal software developed by the computer engineer Code Parade. Fractal algorithms are also commonly used in the fields of architecture, video games, and motion pictures, from computer-generated fractal surfaces in architectural renders to visual effects in science fiction films such as InceptionDoctor Strange, and Annihilation. Wilson worked with Code Parade to customize his program towards heightened cinematic realism and render what look like infinite synthetic 3d landscapes constructed for something other than the human body. Also included in the show is an exact replica of a papier-mâché Pikachu found in a photograph posted to Reddit in 2013 by a user who claimed it was made by their little sister. The image has since become a meme with captions like “Expectations/Reality” and “Kill me.” Another replica is also featured in the commissioned video, along with other translations of memes.

In the next room, a video loop based on the first eight seconds of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special from 1965 is installed on a 2002 iMac G4. In contrast to the repetitive zooming of the new commission, this video pans back and forth over a hand drawn animation sequence based on the narrative world of Charles M. Schulz’s newspaper comic strip Peanuts. The scene is accompanied by the original source sound of Vince Guaraldi’s jazz score—here reduced to the first two bars. These works all form the backstory of an ongoing project: a metafictional documentary about a group of artists who eventually drop out of the contemporary art world to pursue more socially productive design projects. In making these works, Wilson is interested in the role that technology plays in amplifying the impact of “truthiness” over truth. As sound, images, objects, computation, and bodies interrelate, they offer possibilities for intermedial imprints that provoke surprising new effects and complicated meanings.
In titling the show “Lavender Town Syndrome,” Wilson summons a conspiracy theory in which more than 200 Japanese children were driven to suicide by a particular board in the game Pokémon Red and Green for Game Boy. Many others suffered serious migraines or nosebleeds, or turned violent when their parents tried to take the game away. Some cried until they started vomiting. These incidents were later determined to have been caused by the unsettling background music in Lavender Town, which, aside from containing a high tone undetectable to adult ears, was also an early experiment in binaural beats which are said to affect human behavior by syncing with listeners’ brainwaves.

Richard Deacon: Deep State

Richard Deacon: Deep State

Lisson Gallery, London

20 November 2019 – 29 February 2020

“As a sculptor, I have always wondered what exactly is depth? It is shifting and ineffable. Perhaps all I can know is surface, the rest a fiction, a deep state that slips away from view.”

Richard Deacon presents his eleventh exhibition with Lisson Gallery, showing works incorporating steel, ceramics, clay, bent wood and ink on paper that evoke different senses – from memory and touch, to sight and movement. This new collection of sculptures, reliefs and drawings also inhabit different planes – from verticality to horizontality – all while shifting between two and three dimensions and passing from porosity to solidity, suggesting their fluid possibilities as either sites for bodily experience or spaces for contemplation and, as the title suggests, for deep dives into each object.

Among his major recent sculptures are the undulating, twisted forms of I Remember #5 (2018), Swell and Under the Weather #5 (both 2019). The complex arrangements of stainless steel housings and spiraling wooden beams in I Remember #5 are presented horizontally, suggesting the viewer walk along its length while following the trajectory of its delicately sinuous wooden lines. With every steamed wooden dowel ending at a different point in a tessellating grid of metal plates, there is an invitation to recall where each begins its journey and follow them to their conclusion. The upright form in pale bentwood, Under the Weather #5 (2019), represents the apotheosis of Deacon’s two-decade-long mastery of the various techniques involved in wood steaming, manipulation and construction, with only the most unobtrusive nodes of joinery completing the object’s soaring, shelter-like structure and revealing the techniques of its manufacture.

A series of ceramic pieces, another medium Deacon has long been associated with, likewise alternate between the vertical – for a number of glazed wall-based works, collectively titled Flat (2018-19,) that resemble lustrous abstract paintings embedded directly into the wall – and the horizontal, for dark clay plinths which sit somewhere between monumental earthenware, non-functional furniture and sculptural support. Indeed, Deacon has previously experimented with ceramics on an architectural scale for his frieze of 39 polychromatic sculptures on the façade of One Eagle Place in Piccadilly with Eric Parry Architects (2013) and has recently completed another major architectural collaboration with Serbian artist Mrdjan Bajic, to construct From There to Here (2006-19), a 200m pedestrian bridgeway over Belgrade’s Sava River connecting the Kalemegdan fortress with a towering sculptural form.

While the artist describes his own process as protean and not fixed: “sometimes it’s a consequence of accident and sometimes it’s a consequence of intention or past history and sometimes it’s a combination of all those things,” Deacon’s ability to translate between one type of material and one set of propositions to multiple others, has resulted in his own unique sculptural language – one that speaks simultaneously in different registers and communicates between industry and craft or between geometry and nature. “Changing materials from one work to the next is a way of beginning again each time – and thus of finishing what had gone before.”

Deacon’s linguistic twists and turns extend to his titles, as seen in the large floor-based work called Swell (2019), which consists of ideographic waves of steel, traversing the space like an ocean-bound liner. The exhibition title is indeed also a play on words, between the political inference of a ‘Deep State’ – the hidden and intersecting internal agencies that operate within governments – and his hard-won approach to revealing the internecine workings of each sculptural or imagistic form. His verbal approach to aesthetics is further explored in a new book being published to coincide with the exhibition, entitled ‘I wanted to talk about the future but I ended up thinking about the past’. First delivered as a lecture, this volume provides a historical sweep of the art of sculpture from Paleolithic handaxes to 3D printers, all while revealing some of Deacon’s own ideas on authorship, authenticity and appropriation.

RESURRECT, Quercus Robur, 1810-2019 / Rachael Louise Bailey & Johnny Woodford

RESURRECT, Quercus Robur, 1810-2019 / Rachael Louise Bailey & Johnny Woodford

Alice Black, London

16 November – 20 December 2019

Harbouring strong environmental underpinnings, ‘Resurrect’ is intended to shine a critical spotlight on the crucial role of trees in our time of climate crisis and on the nature of human intervention in the natural world.

Quercus Robur, 1810-2019 once stood on the edge of woodland in West Sussex, where starved of light it fell before its time. Discovered in the Spring of this year and with the agreement of the land-owners, Bailey and Woodford removed the 200 year old Oak, limb by limb, beginning the careful process of deconstruction and reconstruction.

Rachael Louise Bailey (b. 1975) lives and works between Kent and Brighton, UK. She studied at ‘Statuaria Arte School of Sculpture’, residency, Cararra, Italy (2004); ‘Direct Carving Stone and Wood’, Formation Professionnel-Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, France (2010-14); ‘Conception de jardin dans le paysage’, Formation Professionnel – Ecole Nationale Supérieure du Paysage’, Versailles, France (2006-08). The genesis for Bailey’s work is in the exploration and transformation of overlooked or discarded material that is often deemed to be of little value or significance yet has long lasting environmental consequences. Through her manipulation of these materials, Bailey shines an unsparing spotlight on the unfortunate anthropocentric realities of our time. In 2019 Bailey won the Fondation Francois Schneider, Contemporary Talents International Art Award as well as the An Lanntair ‘Island Going Residency’ in the Outer Hebrides.

Johnny Woodford (b. 1962) studied at Brighton University with a BA in Fine Art (1985-1988). Since graduating, Woodford has worked primarily with wood. In 1994 he bought six acres of Sussex woodland which has been and remains the focus of his attention. When not working on the land he spends his time split between making sculpture and building structures. Work produced this year include a series of carved and burnt walls for the Andy Sturgeon garden at the Chelsea Flower Show and a puppet theatre commissioned by Cleve West for Christ church CE in south London.

All images > Courtesy of Alice Black, London and the artists

STEFANO SCHEDA Nudo, mani in alto! Naked, hands up!

STEFANO SCHEDA Nudo, mani in alto! Naked, hands up!

Fumagalli Gallery, Milan

17 January – 18 April, 2020

“Nudo, mani in alto! Naked, hands up!” is an invitation to reflect on concept of nudity, from art history to social networks. New works along with historical pieces are presented in an exhibition layout purposely left in half-light.

Stefano Scheda, Meteo, 2004 (still) 1’47”, video

«Why is nobody shocked by the Riace bronzes, why is nobody horrified in front of Michelangelo’s David or of the male nudes of neoclassic art whereas Same same but different, the work by Stefano Scheda with two naked men coming out of water and greeting each other, creates such a concern in those who see it? Why do social media ban it? Why does it raise public complain?». These are the questions that prompted the invite to Stefano Scheda to conceive an exhibition project for Galleria Fumagalli spaces and which introduce the text written by Angela Madesani – collected together with other critical contributions in a book in course of publication.

Stefano Scheda’s work is often characterized by the use of the nude, meant not in an erotic or voyeuristic turn but in its social outcomes. The title of the exhibition “Nudo, mani in alto! Naked, hands up!” deliberately refers to a body exposed to weaknesses and life complications, a body that is not protected even by clothes. «We are all bare in physical and spiritual vulnerability, but not certain of a brotherhood» – explains Stefano Scheda. Nudity, which is observed in the first encounter with the work, does not end with the exposition of a naked body and constitutes only the first grade of staging of the human condition. The observers are invited to question and test their own threshold of tolerance in front of a nude physique that, caught by the artist’s ironic eye, shows a sublimated and archetypical image of the body.

On display the video Meteo (2004), presented for the first time at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe in 2006: naked bodies of men and women, not completely in focus, appear still on a shoreline with round mirrors at their stomachs height. Two disturbing elements, the sunlight reflected from the glasses and the sound of machine guns coming from a space capsule, act on the scene by creating an annoying and alienating effect. In this work nudity is evocative of the human limit in front of the greatness of historical and natural events, and in the photographic diptych Same same but different (2018) is captured in its innocence and purity portraying the bodies where the sea meets the earth. In and out of this confine, water is for the artist symbolic of the hope for a rebirth, as the title of the sculpture Terramare (2015), made with a tire and an air chamber, also evokes. The precariousness of being is expressed equally by the image photographed in Figura I (1996), a naked body that seems to surrender to life: “hands up”.

Paul P. / Slim Volume

Paul P. Slim Volume

Queer Thoughts, New York

November 7 – January 18, 2020

On the occasion of his 20th birthday in 1926, Stephen Tennant requested to be photographed by a young Cecil Beaton. The photographer set his model in front of a backdrop of silver foil, pivoted his naked torso in a way as sly and signaling as a wink, and took the picture. Tennant was already admired as a poet, having published a slim volume, yet nothing concrete would follow it. In a subsequent decade Cyril Connolly would explain, ‘whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.’

In Paul P.’s exhibition, Slim Volume, a photocopy of Tennant’s portrait is featured in a small collage on notepaper, which hangs alongside works from P.’s ongoing repertoire of oil paintings, drawings and sculptures. The premature brilliance of Tennant’s oeuvre failed to advance beyond an endless string of promises for poems that never appeared, or sketches for novels never written, and yet his indolence, pretense, and superficiality made him a human directory of queer gestures and inflections. Like the person of Tennant himself, P.’s collage offers a codex for the indirect modes of presentation and signification that inform the artist’s work, such as the relay of affinities across time, the filigree that encodes inclinations, and the oblique queer reasoning that doesn’t necessarily require the effable and the plastic to perform its seditious role. P.’s meticulous and enduring aesthetic project excavates forms of fantasy particular to eras of criminalized homosexuality, such as dandyism and the early gay erotic industry, which, although outdated, remain useful examples of resistance.

The ongoing body of painted portraits that define much of P.’s practice are appropriated from gay erotic magazines produced during the years bracketed by the beginning of gay liberation/Stonewall, and the advent of the AIDS crisis; a period of provisional freedoms. The models, Janus-like, look forwards and backwards from their original position in time; back to the transient wellspring of homosexual aesthetics and innuendo, and forward to AIDS and other future tragedies, wherein aesthetic energy may lose or regain its unruly value. The artist re-imagines their faces to contain both the foreknowledge of their potential destruction and ulterior, ancient queer motives. Despite the origin of P.’s images as explicit materials of desire, the transactional alliance between model and artist leaves behind an implicit history of negotiation, fragility, impermanence, and revolt from conventional narratives. Other oil paintings describe laundry hung to dry in the closed, colored stucco alleys of Venice neighborhoods, and a yellow monochrome painting describes an area of light itself; all roundabout analogies, devices for further picturing ephemerality. Bed sheets moving in the breeze in a city known in the 19th century for unraveling the English and North American consciousness into permissiveness and violent sensualities, is today yet another symbolic echo.

P.’s sculptures, a folding screen and stool constructed from a transparent lattice of ash wood, similarly allude to the interface of the artist and model; not the click of the camera, but the societal forces precipitating their meeting, the cusp of the experience, and after, the traces left behind. The sculptures function allegorically, and their slender, rakish image belies the exacting precision of their construction. Like the ill-fated figure of the dandy, whose inverse logic exposed the hostility of a predominant moralism, P.’s sculptures suggest that withstanding perennial external pressure may sometimes yield a paradoxical fortitude.

Completing the exhibition are three ink drawings of the facial profile of a statue of Pan, drawn from life in the Musée d’Orsay; an erotic figure whose classical guise has granted safe passage through time. Reclining on his belly, goat legs splayed, he teases bear cubs with pieces of honeycomb. His hand raised before his lips, forefinger and thumb touching and pinkie extended, in a delicate and selective gesture that seems to display the delight of the eternal faggot.

All images > courtesy of Queer Thoughts, New York

Monica Majoli, blueboys

Monica Majoli, blueboys

Galerie Buchholz, New York

November 8 – December 21, 2019

People still die of AIDS—or of AIDS-related complications or illness, as the dispiriting boilerplate has it. Hooray for those who can afford the drugs that make the syndrome manageable, hooray for those who can afford to party without a care in the world, since there should be no worry when one is horny or “in love” or dancing, lustfully unthinking, but close to a million people died of AIDS, just last year.

In an exchange between Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian that would have been called Eyewitness, had Kevin’s death from cancer not interrupted it, at one point Dodie writes: “I’m thinking of how Dennis Cooper said AIDS ruined death.” Not immediately (they reconnoiter the fact of Kevin’s diagnosis), but soon enough, Kevin, after taking a few beats, glosses Dennis’ epigrammatic observation. “Dennis’ point is that once we were in love with death in the Punk Era. It seemed like the real thing, the point of living. Then came AIDS,” Kylie Minogue’s most dedicated fan explained, “and death was reduced to nothing. Just the end. It was stripped of meaning.”

Once we were in love with death… Do you hear Keats’ nightingale in Kevin’s explanation? “I have been half in love with easeful death, call’d him soft names…” Who hasn’t called certain darkling attractions by soft names? Sometimes you live to regret it, sometimes you don’t.

Monica Majoli took inspiration for her newest body of work from the sexy post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS hiatus still known as the ’70s, particularly centerfolds from Blueboy, which billed itself as “the national magazine about men.” In 1980, when I was 15—hold on. I find myself striking out for memory lane again, and I have to say that for the most part I just couldn’t care less about memory lane. (I guess people now call it autofiction.) Instead I’ll relay this little fact: In an interview for High Times, published in the early summer of 1977, Andy Warhol was asked what his favorite magazines were. He replied: “Blueboy, Pussy, Penthouse. Whatever I’m in.”

Or, whatever I’m into. Andy, like others, would have been into the range of Blueboy’s editorial content: interviews with author James Purdy or Perry King, the hunky lead of Andy Warhol’s Bad, co-written by Pat Hackett and directed by Andy’s longest live-in partner, Jed Johnson; into the first English translation of Verlaine’s erotic poetry; into “what really happened to” Montgomery Clift, a profile of Casablanca records, the “photoerotica” of Baron von Gloeden; into commentary on the political debacle initiated by Anita Bryant, via “Save Our Children,” to pass an ordinance to legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation or on the assassination of Harvey Milk; into keeping up with culture almost as much as they were keeping up with cock.

Blueboy’s founding publisher, Donald N. Embinder, a former ad exec at Benton & Bowles as well as an ad rep for After Dark, told the New York Times, in 1976, that “Playgirl and Viva made male nudity on newsstands viable”; it was the same year he took out a full-page ad in the trade magazine Advertising Age, headlined: “Now you can reach America’s most affluent minority…The Male Homosexual.” TMH was seen to be single and to have money to spare. The ads in Blueboy targeted an audience interested in self-care, bodily upkeep, and places in which clothes could be easily shed. The tagline for a K’WEST skin products ad made it clear: “Fashion Pointers for the Well Undressed Male—Clothes may make the man but only K’WEST makes the man touchable.” Contourex offered “a new exercise system designed to give you tighter, shaplier [sic] buns.” Cabana wear by International Male. Caftans by Ah Men.

Blueboy had a small part in the push to transvalue issues of class specificity into issues of taste—what’s classy, what’s not—rather than only into realpolitik. Some of the magazine’s models were trade, which was the vernacular before gay-for-pay, and before the entire mainstreaming of sexual preference—with its radical potential for undoing rote and rigid forms of relationality—became gay-for-pay or pay-for-gay—PayPal (read GayPal) in a sense, before the fact. In the quest to sell its dream, America has always privileged affluence, a dream of financial security, even clout, wooing a striving majority, whether they were part of a minority population or not, to vote with their wallets.

The fight to end the AIDS pandemic would rally grassroots coalitions and would stymie that push, if only for a moment; putting the action between the sheets into the streets. Fran Lebowitz has provided some of the most searching thinking on how we still live in the wake of that moment, the consequence of kinds of audience, many of whom would have read Blueboy alongside Interview: When I was young, you know, later ’70s early ’80s, my first real audience was from Interview magazine, and at that time that audience was 99.9% homosexual, male homosexual. And that audience was very important to me. This is part of what formed my voice. Everyone talks about the effect that AIDS had on the culture—I mean, people don’t talk about it anymore, but when people did talk about it—they talked about what artists were lost, but they never talked about this audience that was lost. When people talk about, like, Why was the New York City Ballet so great? Well, it was because of Balanchine and Jerry Robbins and people like that, but also that audience…was so… I can’t even think of the word. I mean, if Suzanne Farrell went like this [tiny gesture of fingers] instead of this [the reverse of that tiny gesture] that was it: she might as well just kill herself. There would be like a billion people who knew exactly every single thing. There was such a high level of connoisseurship…of everything that people like this were interested in. Of everything. That made the culture better. A very discerning audience, an audience with a high level of connoisseurship, is as important to the culture as artists. It is exactly as important. Now, we don’t have any kind of connoisseur audience. When that audience died, and that audience died in five minutes. Literally, people didn’t die faster in a war. And it allowed, of course, the second, third, fourth tier to rise to the front. Because, of course, the first people who died of AIDS were the people, oh, I don’t know how to put this, got laid a lot. Okay, now imagine who didn’t get AIDS? Okay? That’s who was then lauded as the great artists, okay? If the other people who hadn’t died, if they were alive, if they all came back to life, and I would say to them, Guess who’s a big star? Guess! Guess who has a show on Broadway? Guess who’s like a famous photographer? They would fall on the floor. Are you kidding me? Because everyone else died. Last man standing. […] Things in the culture that had nothing to do with the New York City Ballet, it just got dumbed down, dumbed down, dumbed down—all the way down. What we have had, in, like, the last 30 years, is too much democracy in the culture, not enough democracy in the society.

Inspired by mokuhanga, Japanese woodblock printing, Majoli’s large-scale Whiteline woodcut watercolor paintings are based on images from Blueboy, circa 1976-79, a period she considers “the halcyon years of gay liberation, when homosexuality was understood to be politically charged and under threat, presaging the trauma of the AIDS epidemic.” Halcyon provides a way to understand the aesthetic of the soft-core centerfolds of the magazine: the lighting is sun-kissed, the palette warm with rose-golds’ ember glow, the bodies toned and unmanscaped. Mother Nature smiles on these men making themselves available to other men, a possibility she always intended. (Long before homosexuality was legal, porn would show men in showers or out in nature, among flora and fauna, and it would be theoretically stingy not to see such scenarios as emphasizing the cleanliness and naturalness of such pleasures, when they were still seen to be “dirty” and “unnatural.”) The models were known by their first names (“Joe”, “Roger”); some appeared a single time, while others became featured players; they all had histories, lives, and they’re seen in repose that is also work. Their cocks, balls, and buns remain, as they were, magnificent and inviting. The hard-edged, roided body of the 1980s—a “built” body weaponized, Ramboized (apotropaically and/or phantasmatically) against viral invasion and wasting—is nowhere to be seen.

While considering all that is lost when the map of masculinity permits few ways to trace the radical potential of male vulnerability, tenderness, as a source of strength and communing, don’t fail to reckon with what Monica achieves with the gentle but grand shift in scale from the magazine centerfold: these works are history paintings. They chronicle not only soft power rather than toxic masculinity, but also sexual fantasy, intimacy in which the nameable earns no more importance than the nameless or unnameable. The pigments with which the paintings are made, water-soluble, suggest tears and/or sweat (synecdoches for other bodily fluids), no longer mistaken as dangerous, contaminant, but, whether joyfully or sadly, communicating without need of language. These radiant, touching pictures embody a vision of how once we were in love with life.

Bruce Hainley

All Images > courtesy of Galerie Buchholz





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