Magazine article Artforum International

Larry Clark: International Center of Photography, New York

Magazine article Artforum International

Larry Clark: International Center of Photography, New York

Article excerpt

Certain plaintiffs in the Michael Jackson trial look like kids in Larry Clark pictures, particularly his 1996 set of photos Sketches for Tulsa Movie Coming Soon--like the Jordie Chandler twin that curator Brian Wallis eyes as one of Clark's "most compelling": "a shirtless young man pulling back his long hair in a feminized pose for the camera." Wallis fails to account for why the pose is "feminized" or for how some Tulsa kid might have learned to do it. Is any display of any body necessarily feminized? What makes a boy posed like that so compelling? Is it just youth's juice, or is it a peek at something, objet petit adolescence, bared in him and yet more than him, making as many want to fuck him as fuck him up?

What's billed as a Clark retrospective at the ICP stumbles around a programmatic, chronological curation of what were (at least until his landmark show at Luhring Augustine in 1992) not printed but rather published projects, spotlighting a more tractable and less radical artist than Clark's ever really been. He ain't Robert Capa, much less Robert Mapplethorpe, yet he's presented as if he should be. Framed, his portraits of nonbeing are made to fit a narrative of the "perfect moment" they rarely perpetrated when originally produced. Pinning tearsheets to the wall might have made for a more challenging, not to mention authentic, presentation, but Wallis instead quarantines six of Clark's books--covers shut tight; not even a glimpse of what constitutes Untitled (1994), known as "the River Pheonix book," for example--inside a single dinky case, which certainly is one way to italicize their "unreadability" and pictoral anacoluthon.

Clark's never been a "pure" photographer: He's more a writer, though less Dennis Cooper and more Hunter S. Thompson with a Nikon. In Cooper, when a dwarf fists some has-been kiddie-porn star he finds hidden treasure; that shit's been transfigured. But in Clark? Nothing's transfigured, but neither is it raw documentary, fear and loathing. Drugs, mirrors, and the space of the page mediate and fracture everything, leaving behind a confounding, self-reflexive eroticism. Textuality--call it "bookness"--complicates Clark's work, preventing its being taken for fetishy indices of fact, Dorian Gray-like self-portraits in reverse, or jack-off material, since it most bares all when throttling meaning repeatedly.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

What operates as the centerfold of the writer's revolutionary first book, Tulsa (1971), pits, verso, a text--"death is more perfect than life"--against, recto, Clark's first "star," Billy Mann, shirtless on tousled sheets, gun raised and wristwatch ticking, captioned "dead 1970"--"dead" as in deceased and absolutely. Taking and giving shots, the camera appears in Tulsa as both gun and hypodermic needle (by extension, pen and penis)--and thus the book becomes as much a portrait manque of Clark as an autoerotically asphyxiated implication of its own production. Tulsa's tale of photography climaxes in the image of a hip, questioning hustler being helped by someone out of frame to hold open a double-page photo spread displaying not a mob orgy at Altamont but a concentration-camp body dump, overflowing the printed matter's gutter, everyone holding responsibility for what is seen. …

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