Amigxs (Self-portrait with Brendan Mahoney, Carlos Martiel and Jorge Sanchez), 2017
Courtesy of the artist.
OMNISCIENT: Queer Documentation in an Image Culture
Oct 03 - Dec 14, 2020
Queer people have always shaped our image culture through mass media, scholarship, activism, and art. We have formed the historical vanguard, from Vaslav Nijinsky to Bill T. Jones, Jean Cocteau to Cheryl Dunye, Gertrude Stein to Audre Lorde, Alan Turing to Donna Haraway, John Cage to Justin Vivian Bond, Michel Foucault to José Esteban Muñoz, Rudi Gernreich to Alexander McQueen. And let’s not forget the paradigmatic queer image-maker, Andy Warhol.
Warhol famously proclaimed that "in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes," an uncanny prediction that is now cultural folklore. What he didn’t foresee was that in our digital age every nanosecond would be documented, social media would be more ubiquitous than print, film, and television combined, Internet content would be a form of commerce, online relevance would become a survival mechanism, and we would carry archives around on pocket computers. In a rapidly accelerating digital image culture—torqued by machine learning and deep-fake technology—our public sphere is increasingly mediated. How do we gauge identity amid a torrent of avatars and digitally filtered selfies? What can queerness possibly look like in this disorienting image landscape?
Some of the artists in this exhibition excavate archives of popular culture as a form of queer iconography. Catalina Schliebener’s site-specific installation takes up the purportedly subliminal sexual messages of The Little Mermaid, seized on by evangelicals during the culture wars of the 1990s. Deborah Kass performs meta-drag in her self-portrait as Andy Warhol, forging an intergenerational lineage between their practices while disidentifying with masculinist canons. And Angela Dufresne casts actress Gena Rowlands as the ultimate post-Enlightenment archetype: feminist, heroic, and permeable.
Other artists critique the ways images function in our public spaces, such as Aliza Shvarts’ banners that reproduce internet comment threads on her 2008 project about reproductive autonomy, indexing the realities of digital overexposure and the reach of reactionary politics. Camilo Godoy’s monumental celebration of Latinx polyamory is shown in situ, installed as a billboard in midtown Manhattan. Paul Wong assembles a full year of iPhone images into a stroboscopic confessional. Esvin Alarcón Lam reconstructs a hundred-year-old monument with apparel made in China.
A third group of artists sidesteps representation altogether, in a search for alternative citations of the body. Joy Episalla’s giant photogram documents her embrace, and the soundscape by Russel Perkins that transgresses the human-machine borderline with a choral transcription of the digital tones of slot machines. Nicki Green’s clay portraits of firebricks are sourced from from ceramicist Peter Voulkos’ original kiln, and Izidora Leber LETHE’s anarchist flag is paved with crushed antidepressants.
Warhol didn’t live to see how his prediction would play out, or that he would inspire generations of queer artists to continue mapping our image culture. The works in these galleries negotiate queer cultural identity with a particular affection, skepticism, and prescience that is only arrived at from the social margins.