featured gallery for October 2008

I Heart Douchebags

Scanning the huge collection of work available in the Visual AIDS archive was a lot like being in a big gay bar, or on some giant internet hookup-site. I know this is superficial of me, but with such a large number of slides, I had to scan for images that stood out to me at a rapid clip or I would have been there for three days. This usually meant that I was attracted to the image, because of my aforementioned superficiality.

Now and then I would find the photo of some beautiful, sexy, or dangerous man and I would pause for a second, and start making all sorts of conclusions about the subject's relationship to the artist. I settled on a selection of images that made me mumble to myself, "God that guy seems like a cocky asshole."

Of course I am infusing my own experience. I don't have a clue what really happened with these men and their captors. But I also find it impossible to appreciate these works at some removed sexless distance, simply for their formal beauty, especially when the artist himself doesn't seem to have distance from his subject.

Take George Towne's painting of a grim-faced muscle queen wearing a baseball hat. Perhaps this man and the artist were happy, wonderful supportive boyfriends, but here, in this painting, this dude is set against a pissy, yellow backdrop and wears a grim line of a mouth: that kind of total jerk with a huge myoplexic body that you may see walking down 8th Avenue in Chelsea and fantasize about him as you continue walking, and then hate yourself for being attracted to him.

For all of these, it's easy to whip up this kind of narrative: Vincent Cianni's skinny, smug boy with an eyebrow ring flexing his fresh bicep, Richard J Treintner's obsessive snapshots (there are several) of a Jersey-sexy stud who is obviously enjoying the attention, Dominic Avellino's triptych of a red haired hunk of beefcake looking off like he doesn't care you want him -- these are the kinds of guys who don't call back, steal something in your apartment, lie and say they are tired, hurt you. They are the ones you get involved with and think to yourself, "Oh man this guy is going to screw me over but I just can't stop!"

Sometimes the artist can't help but title his creation with the person's name, where he is, how he has been fixed in time -- "Cole", "Willy", "Alejandro in Marble", "Carlos Outside My Bedroom." The artist seems to be trying to create at least one harmonious moment where the dude was there and things were symbiotic. Before he walked out the door and ignored phone calls and beeper pages.

It's a state of mind that isn't talked about often, since the art world often satisfies itself with its detached criticism and dry theory to buy and sell. The artists of these works all seem to be in the ache of obsession, and the men here are all too happy to bask in the energy and attention. These works cover the range of this emotional state as well.

Eric Rhein's photograph, "English John," in which a long haired gorgeous dude gets up from a rumpled bed is so heartbreaking, you know English John eventually drifted away before the artist could find out his last name. (English John -- haven't we all had our English Johns?) Jose Luis Cortes's photo "Frankie's Tattoos," one of my favorites, is so sexually charged it looks as if he had a camera in one hand and a big bottle o' poppers in the other, while Felix Gonzales Torres's pile of cellophane candy ("Untitled, Portrait of Ross in L.A.") exemplifies the strong, melancholic memory-ache for oceanic love that emanates from all this late, great artist's work. I know that Juan Rivera and Keith Haring had a much more dynamic and interesting creative partnership, but right here, they seem like they have definitely had a spat that I am sure involved some sick moment that comes up in almost any relationship: one of them got drunk, snuck away, deep-dicked his ex-boyfriend, and the other is not happy.

I don't know what these men are like, in the end, but the work here is definitely immediate, evocative, and horny. This work defines that thrilling, dangerous moment in any artist's career when you are full of feeling for what's in front of you, and you are at risk of being consumed by it. It's about that time when someone has inspired you so much that for him, because of him, you are risking the most precious thing you have -- your power of self-expression -- and it's scaring you. Also, I have to admit, I am envious. Because as much of a douche bag each of these guys may have been, you can just tell they had really good sex.