July 22, 2008

Againt Nature/Against the Grain

Through August 10 is Against the Grain, the Christopher Russell curated reprise of Dennis Cooper and Richard Hawkin's show Against Nature which took place at LACE's Industrial location some 20 years ago. Artforum has a description of the current show and it's historical context, harking back to J. K. Huysmans novel of the same title.

According to Cooper, there was some talk about putting together an updated "group show of works by homosexual men," but it seems that Russel had already approached LACE with the idea of producing the unhomoexual and Gothic version that is on display today.

Like the worst days of the AIDS catastrophe, contemporary artists are functioning in a world they have little control over, and rife with catastrophic problems. While a gossamer link can be made between the themes of these two shows, considerable differences remain. Like the plague of the Middle Ages, gay men in the 80's where eyewitnesses to (and participants in) the death around them, unlike the distance created by representational wars and disasters of today. Unlike the death-by-RPGs that can occur from the beaches in Gaza to the mountains of Pakistan, HIV fused the barrel of a gun with the shaft of a penis. For gay men writing and making art, death/desire and art/life were incredibly overlapping magisteria, unseparated by a cathode-ray tube, liquid crystal display, or forward slash.

What made the first iteration more interesting was the way so many of the artists in Against Nature turned to the 19th century to make sense (and art) of their present circumstance. A tighter-themed group show can be stronger and more cohesive; it can also draw criticisms for what is left out. Missing were the Gran Furys and General Ideas that are used to represent the art history of artists responses to AIDS.

Thinking back to the earlier show--and wandering through the current exhibition--makes me wonder about some of the unintended similarities. Are Goths the Dandys of the 90's?

Surprising to me, a large number of the artists in Against Nature are still alive today--and still making art. It would have been impossible for the curators to know who would survive and who would succumb, but for the historical record, Against nature became a history written by the survivors. Perhaps by following Huysmans' model of retreating to one's room and sublimating desire onto the page (or canvas) one can avoid the fate of the Mark Morrisoes and F G-Ts of this world; voices immersed in the body fluids and experience that are missing from both versions of the show.

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