by Regina Hackett -
Special to the SGN
I.D.: Individual Demographics
Greg Kucera Gallery
The supple line Tom of Finland (Touko) is entirely devoted to articulating the robust bodies of young men. Always hung, hard and willing, they represent a state of imperishable bliss.
There is no such thing among the living. In the gap between the artist's idealized fixations and the reality of flesh, the audience for Tom of Finland's drawings live. The drawings arrest time, which ticks onward. They are a time-out that never ends, all coming and no going, all light and no dark. If there were such a thing as a wave forever hanging at its crest, surfers would shun it.
Some who disdain Touko's work are straight-up homophobes, but there are other reasons for giving it a pass. The artist created a heavenly world, a place where, in Wallace Steven's phrase, "ripe fruit never fall."
Heaven is where the imagination goes to die. Even in the literature of the faithful, hell is where the action is, which is why scholars say Milton was of the Devil's party. "What do mine eyes with grief behold?" asks Lucifer, Milton's fallen angel. It's easy to love Dante's Inferno while failing to finish (or start) his Paradiso.
Touko refused to acknowledge that joy must end. Aesthetically, he is saved from simpering irrelevance by the elegance of line. If painters of flowers are frequently called minor, then he is minor. His men are always in bloom and never fade, shining in the eternal sunshine of the artist's mind.
Set in the political context of his time, however, the artist who died in 1991 at age 71 is a hero. To delineate a version of the beautiful which mainstream culture called repulsive is a brave act. Just as a single man in 1989 stood up to the tanks in Tiananmen Square, Touko stood up to hatred by articulating its opposite. His art is the flower that student anti-war protesters in the late '60s placed in the business end of National Guard rifles. He was a "make love, not war" kind of guy.
For that reason, a suite of his drawings is on view at the Greg Kucera Gallery as part of a group show titled, "I.D.: Individual Demographics."
We may be what we eat, but we are also what we admire.
Other show highlights include Anne Appleby, for whom color carries the world. In "Faded Sweet Pea" (oil/wax on four panels, each 16 inches square, 2008), there is an homage to the dying world in the layered mutations of her shadings, impossible to see reproduced.
Nola Avienne is not interested in elegies. As she notes in her artist statement, some collectors buy art because they want to invest in a brand name, which presumably has a good chance of rising in value. "If the artist has become a commodity, why not circumvent the art altogether and literally own a piece of the artist?"
Step right up, folks. "The Donor Wall Project" features blood portraits of 72 artists. Framed in white and hung in a grid, these expressive abstractions range from light-struck to the darkly clotted.
Matt Browning continues to investigate the rituals of his skateboarding, pot-smoking, beer-chugging and male-bonded suburban youth. "Leave No Trace" is a small wooden box he carved for a secret stash. The original must have been strictly utilitarian, but its recreation in art carries the ethos of the moment lightly, when he and his buddies huddled around a ritualized object, seeking a (collective) high.
Browning's work proceeds from the most basic questions: Who am I and where did I come from? His story is common, but his delivery is rare.
In the horizontal green yellow and red colors of the Ethiopian flag, Seattle's Jack Daws created a welcome mat. Set in black lettering across the front is a qualification on the invitation: "INTEGRATORS WELCOME." None of you sorry-ass segregationists need apply.
Who's on the outside looking in? All the hetros who hang with heteros only, and the reverse. Also not welcome are all the men who don't want women at their dinner table, the young who shun the old, the white who know no others, the rich who do not party with the poor, the fleet-foot who look right through the lame.
What about those who count as friends no one covered in feathers, scales or fur? No one who swims, flies or runs on four legs? Scratch out their names.
That's pretty much everybody. Welcome to all becomes welcome to the few who live on the wild side of inclusion. Thus, a welcome mat is a rallying cry to expanded consciousness, and what's flat on the floor aspires to higher ground.
Leigh Bowery was the king/queen of the London club scene in the early 1990s. Late one night in full regalia, he turned around from the bar and ran into Mick Jagger.
Startled, Jagger said, "Out of my way, freak."
Bowery replied, "Out of my way, fossil."
The oft-told exchange has become its own kind of artwork, a moment that crystallized a cultural shift. In the new world which is so much more fun than the old, only a fossil would call Bowery a freak.
Four of Fergus Greer's portraits of Bowery are in the show. Intended as promotionals, they are now themselves art. Through Greer's lens we know Bowery, a man constructed through the high-life personas of his clothes.
Anthonly Giocolea's small color photograph from 2006, "Grave Diggers," is a moment that becomes a world. A group of young males in private school uniforms cut loose in a woodpile. Giocolea sees them as they want to see themselves - exuberant and wild. The top buttons of their pressed shirts are undone, and their shined shoes ready to be scuffed. And yet, they are playing in a woodpile, not a wood. Their class constraints them from a walk on a wilder side.
In his childhood, Glenn Ligon disappeared into his desire. His "Self Portrait at 11 years old" from 2004 is a stenciled pulp paper painting of Stevie Wonder. It's a rendering born of love. With every fiber of his nerdy, black, Gay body, Ligon longed to be, or (failing that) be with, his hero.
Dan Webb makes light of the weighty matter of identity with a "New You Machine." Above a stocky male torso is a lazy Susan of choices for heads. The visitor who turns the crank can turn a pinched consciousness into an expansive one, a clown into a pope.
In "AY CHIHUAHUA" from 1998, Hugo Ludena caught the downside of sexually inexperienced heterosexuals celebrating wedlock. They both rear back in horror as a champagne bottle, cork popped, explores in an orgiastic upward trajectory. Neither is ready for what in the course of their narrow lives may not occur.
For Chad States, making art begins with a question. On Craigslist, he queried, "Are you masculine?" The subjects he ended up photographing posed themselves and wore what struck them as appropriate.
For a guy named Luke, that meant nothing at all. These photos are one-two punch. There's the image and what the subject says about the image. Luke sits naked in an easy chair and stares provocatively at the male photographer. Does Luke protest too much? That's a come-hither look if I've ever seen one.
Luke: "I am masculine because I abandon women after taking their love. Because when you study Freud you don't let him study you. Because I study philosophy not literature."
Without the text, Luke would be one more guy in a chair. With it, he is, in the Diane Arbus sense, terrific.
I love Alice Wheeler's large color print titled, "Kathleen Hanna at Home, Olympia, 1993." Light makes a halo around her red henna hair, and the look on her beautiful young face is pensive. On her chest, however, she scribbled the word, "incest," followed by a question mark.
Wheeler's subjects confront the dark but stay jaunty. There's an up-and-at-'em vibe to her work that constitutes a worldview. Neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor incest can keep a good girl down.
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