featured gallery for July 2010
My queer awakening came into focus when at 15, I chanced upon a Studio 54 blue jean advertisement in the September 1983 issue of GQ magazine. The semi-nude male model was photographed in profile as he pulls up the tight dark denim. I had never seen an image of such doggedly brazen sensuality. From that moment, the art of dressing and the art of creating desire for clothes through erotic expression have enraptured me. The work I have selected from the Visual AIDS archive made me think of my particular ah-ha moment and of the artists who were inspired by seductive dreamscapes the fashion machine produces via fashion editorial, advertising and the runway.
A visual vocabulary of queer erotics, which celebrates form as flesh, manner as camp and gesture as come-on, has cohabitated with fashion industry creatives to produce images that drip with homoerotic fantasies. Who can forget Bruce Weber's iconic photograph of Olympian Tom Hintnaus posing in his Calvin Klein briefs against a backdrop of whitewashed Santorini? Often en par and in cahoots with pornography, its more blatant purveyor of queer sexuality, these images travel the crossroads where the skin trade, art and commerce meet. Eduardo Mirales' Sheer Gucci Underwear is as much homage to butt cheeks as it to then Gucci designer Tom Ford's unfailing ability to hone in on the money shot. In Michael Harwood's Marky on 57th Street, an advertisement for Calvin Klein underwear photographed by Herb Ritts and featuring Mark Wahlberg in high come-on mode fights for meaning and attention with other signs. In the photograph a "NO LEFT TURN" traffic sign humorously suggests that gazing at Marky's crotch is looking the wrong way but it also points back to the history of homoerotic expression used to sell dreams.
Fashion's fun house of mirrors acts as an interlocking series of undetermined glances, a fractured state that makes trying on and discarding gender roles and identities seamless. At one time I was obsessed with Inès de la Fressange, the quintessentially chic model who posed for Chanel in the 1980's. I had dutifully replaced all the pictures on my bedroom wall of shirtless teen stars torn from Tiger Beat with images of her lifted from broadsheet W magazine. Joe DeHoyos' Gaultier, a collage of images from the designer's runway and advertising campaigns, is a cut-and-paste storyboard directing the viewer to alternative personae that could have been culled from the same publication. The model in Stephen Clark's Armani is slightly androgynous, a style that dovetails nicely with the designer's mix of masculine and feminine elements. While in Michael Lee's Menswear #3, it may seem obvious that the female model dominates the illustration, it can easily be argued that the debonair, handsome man behind her is the eroticized subject.
Fashion archetypes such as the diva, jock, pinup, socialite or ephebe provide the grist for the fashion narrative mill, spinning tales that are removed from the everyday. To reinforce desire and identity, fashion routinely imbues its objects with a lifestyle narrative that communicates more than just cut and drape. Bruce Crastley's sharply tailored coat in Black Coat Reflected appears lifeless without an occupant. But even as a still life it is not a stretch to imagine who would inhabit it and flesh it out, someone distinguished, elegant. Part of the power of a fashion image is its revelation that a personality, an individual, a face exists. Valerie Caris' Poses and Kurt Weston's Fallen Angels are bombshell and biker chick portraits whose center frame portrait style brings to mind classic yearbook photography. In a wry twist, Rene Santos' Untitled, which mixes archival photography and text, questions the viewer's attenuated relationship with a fashion image, suggesting that fashion promotes not just glamour and beauty but a heavy dose of self-doubt, self-loathing and inadequacy.
The runway is a performance space where theatrical enactments of desire and archetypes parade. Fashion shows can be either excruciatingly dull or wonderfully inspiring. One show that will never leave my mind is John Bartlett's Spring 1996 show where the designer, dressed à la Cubano and suspended in a hammock at the entrance to the runway, did not reveal his identity until the show's finale. In David Abbott'sEyes of the Gliteratti, one could read on the faces of the guests either a detached bafflement or blithe nonchalance. In Kurt Weston's The Runway, by contrast, one gets the feeling by watching the slow building tumult in the audience that by the time the model has completed her sashay, something memorable will have happened.