artists & participants
Under the direction of Lia Gangitano, whose passionate brilliance has brought much deserved attention to the alternative space, Participant, Inc. has become one of the most happening places in the New York art world. Gangitano facilitates the exhibitions, manages a publishing program and perhaps more importantly, continues to commit to collaborations with artists on public experimentation and "project-based" events.
The current show, "Blow Both of Us," is curated by Shannon Ebner and Adam Putnam (an artist who shows his own work at Taxter & Spengeman). Taking its title from a scrawled caption on a 1980s Polaroid self-portrait of Mark Morrisroe and Gail Thacker, the show brings us to familiar territory of these "Boston School" artists --the moniker was coined by Gangitano herself--as well as Allen Frame and Jimmy DeSana. The exhibit shrewdly, if not exactly seamlessly, opens up the conversation to artists who came later, such as Eve Fowler, Luther Price, Emily Roysdon and Dean Sameshima. These artists have expounded on the traditions of queer diaristic photography in compelling ways, and as AIDS has gradually become an unavoidable key on the cosmic typewriter, a visit to the show is like witnessing a twenty-year crescendo of playful and sexual survival.
Despite the presence of a pair of early Mapplethorpe Polaroids, it is Morrisroe who is the towering figure of the exhibition. The artist has left a legacy of self-portraiture that pulls triggers in our collective unconscious at no matter which point in our journey. The transgressive, though no-longer-shocking, images have gathered poignancy with age. Morrisroe's life as a chameleon is concisely depicted in the show: he can appear as a strung-out nomad in one image and evoke the effortless beauty of Audrey Hepburn in the next. His stint as a hustler dovetails nicely with the enchanting legend that he might possibly have been an illegitimate son of The Boston Strangler, based on the fact that he spent part of his childhood in a house his family rented from the killer.
The opening night crowd at Participant, Inc. included curators Matthew Higgs and Klaus Biesenbach as well as chanteuse Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons,) and wizened writer Gary Indiana. Ramsey McPhillips, an associate of the artists of the Boston School and Morrisroe's last boyfriend, considers his time with Thacker and Morrisroe a "plateau of weird genius." Standing in front of Gail Thacker's less frequently exhibited Polaroids, he tells me that Thacker wore a nurse's outfit throughout college. Drugs were not a major part of the scene. Instead, McPhillips says, "They preferred color and John Waters. And insulting people for humor."
Kindred spirit Jimmy DeSana took his own sense of humor quite seriously. His photographic experiments continue the tradition of Pierre Molinier, and are shown here next to the works by Morrisroe. The iconic pose as "Coffee Table" (1978-79) has earned a place in the queer self-portrait canon. It's worth noting, too, that DeSana was shoving ladies' shoes into his pantyhose and mashing his genitals for public display long before webcams made exhibitionism safe, anonymous, and commonplace.
Allen Frame was in the gallery tonight, and is justifiable proud of his misty images of friends and lovers immortalized in selenium-toned silver prints. Emily Roysdon has created a touching homage to one of her heroes, David Wojnarowicz, "Untitled (David Wojnarowicz series)", 2001. For the series Roysdon wore a Xeroxed mask of Wojnarowicz's face over her own, just as Wojnarowicz did with the visage of poet Arthur Rimbaud. Los Angeles-based modern master Dean Sameshima has contributed a memorable small series of color photographs of empty beds entitled "In Between Days (Without You)", 2004. The individual histories of the wet spots on pillows (sweat? saliva? other?) are mysterious and lovely.
For curators Ebner and Putnam, photography such as the work in the show is about friendship, and more specifically trust. "Blow Both of Us" makes a strong case for photography's essential impulsiveness and secrecy, as well as its ultimate accessibility. For the permanence of other people's ephemeral snapshots. After all, they're not coming back, these moments.
Doug McClemont is the former Editor-in-Chief of the gay porn mag, HONCHO. He is currently writing about his adventures as a Mortician.
Blow Both of US
Kuratoren: Shannon Ebner, Adam Putnam
mit Mark Morrisroe, Gail Thacker, Allen Frame, Jimmy de Sana, Eve Fowler, Luther Price, Emily Roysdon, Dean Sameshima ...