featured gallery for December 2015

Sampling the Self

With the selfie now a ubiquitous reflex, it’s gratifying to peruse the Visual AIDS Artist Registry archive and discover the richly diverse photographic self-portraits made by artists before this genre was dumbed down for social media. Some, from earlier decades, are iconic: Tseng Kwong Chi, Herve Guibert, Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, Mark Morrisroe, Hunter Reynolds, David Wojnarowicz. Some address us through performance, like the still of Rafael Sanchez in a theatrical spotlight. Andrew McPhall’s face is completely covered with bandaids, a detail from a performance. Some are performative but private. Some use text to create autobiographical context, like Rene Santos. Azt poses nude, revealing a tattoo of text down his back. Peter Robinson Jr. uses text to ask a question: how long till I am a statistic?

Some construct through collage, like Jack Smith or Robert Getso. Derek Jackson’s digitally doubled nude figure could be a Rorschach test. How do you read it? Jo Ori’s facial closeup is slightly out of focus but staring out and hypnotic. Some use masks, such as Dirk Wilms, with a paper moose-head mask. Nelson Rodriguez masks his face by bowing his head and letting his mop of dark hair fall over it, his pubic bush above a towel a sexy echo. Eric Rhein is stripped down in an empty room, unmasked.

Some use mirrors and reflections, like Tracy Silverberg in leather gear or Bruce Cratsley’s frame within a frame. Two depict themselves with their partners: Richard Renaldi in his Hotel Room Portraits series and Albert Winn in “My Life Until Now: After the Cocktail, “ from 1999.

Some are allegorical, some fantastical: Ray Cook leans his head against a skull with a beak; John Lathram III presents himself as both a satyr and Christ. Ray Navarro appears as Christ in a video still from a “Stop the Church” action in 1989. Rob Ordonez’s Christ is a smiling, campy one with tinsel. Wyatt Tan gives us his ass instead of his face.

Kia Labeija takes us inside her room; it feels like a backstage dressing room, her closet full of high heels and glamorous possibilities. Benjamin Fredrickson stands fully erect in more ways than one. Kevin Atmadibrata‘s full figure nude sports a banana as an edible phallic appendage.

In so many different ways, the artists invite us to witness, to interpret, to share in desire and pain, to feel, to care, to learn, to follow. Darrel Ellis’s self-portrait comes from a series in which he asks, how do others see me? He appropriated other people’s photographs of himself, distorting and reinterpreting them to create a self-portrait. His image here is an appropriation of an I.D. photo used by the Museum of Modern Art, where his last job was as a security guard. A few years later, his work was shown there posthumously, as part of the show New Photography 1992.

Using the self as model, figure, vehicle, strategy, and subject, these artists sample many ways of reaching us. Once again, we are looking and listening.