Stephen Barker; Bernard Toale Gallery

By Koslow Miller, Francine | Artforum International, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Stephen Barker; Bernard Toale Gallery


Koslow Miller, Francine, Artforum International


Beginning with "Night Swimming," 1999, a series of grainy photographs documenting the murky corners of Manhattan's gay sex clubs, Stephen Barker has focused his camera on the eroticism of anonymous desire. His latest project, "The Archivist's Wig," 2007-2008, a layered combination of found and fabricated photographs, wallpaper, and sculpture, takes as its subject the life and times of the notorious gay cold war double agent Guy Burgess (1911-1963), a British diplomat turned Soviet spy and defector. An array of ink-jet prints made from scanned negatives of Barker's own new still lifes and beefcake shots, shown alongside cold war-era porn, relevant news clippings, and declassified FBI records, loosely narrate Burgess's political and sexual crimes.

The files acquired by Barker were made after Burgess's 1951 defection; Barker also borrowed images of the exteriors of '50s gay bars from the National Archive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in New York, and uncovered a trove of old film canisters and worn books in the dusty atric of a gay porn store. The artist has coupled images of these artifacts with items from his personal collection of vintage erotica and cyberporn to create an installation that simulates a climate of homophobia and anticommunist paranoia.

"The Archivist's Wig" was arranged as an integrated grouping of prints mounted on or leaned against bare or papered gallery walls. The repeated designs of Barker's wallpaper, which include images of Barker," 2008 circumspect and redacted FBI files and gay haunts, along with gay porn, seem to reference the repetitive nature of Burgess's behaviot. The installation was crowned with "Influence of the Planets," 2007, a series of twelve larger-than-life-size headshots of expressionless trophy men. In each slightly off-kilter image, two or more negatives have been superimposed using Photoshop. …

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