"The Moderns." (Various Artists, Feature, New York)

By Hainley, Bruce | Artforum International, November 1995 | Go to article overview

"The Moderns." (Various Artists, Feature, New York)


Hainley, Bruce, Artforum International


A perplexing, disconcerting, very pretty thing is the body, and I have been trying to think about bodily beauty as a form of intelligence. The truism about beautiful men and women not being very smart is only interesting as comedy@ if thinking through the body is to have any finesse, then those for whom the body is their constant inquiry deserve recognition for the cognitive skill of their dazzling flesh. A taut bod in bed is a kind of thinking. Skin is, muscle remembers, and there is no certainty. If you see someone like Travis in Markus Morianz's photo, travis, 1995, start with, What's it like to be you? The answer may be verbal, a sentence with its own remarkable thrust, or performative, a stroking of cock, a flexed tummy, but either answer may alter any preconceived notions of esthetics forever. It is easy to forget that depicting sexiness and come-hither qualities is a complicated process: what is represented - the body or the body as stand-in for our lusty projections - is mysterious, haunting, and in many senses no longer there.

Tony Payne's show of 16 artists, "The Moderns," demonstrated how thrilling it can be to be confused, excited, and irritated - the ferocious gamut of desire's intelligence. Surveying the modem landscape of queer, Payne assembled a snazzy group of works to investigate where in an object or viewer queerness resides. Through canny juxtapositions, these works tested the abstractness of the representational as well as the erotic, visceral push of the abstract. Chris Wilder's lovely shimmering small snakeskin, picked up the glint of the skin of Robert Mapplethorpe's two men dancing, 1984, next to it, but also shone throughout the show: in the enjoy-coke joke of John Boskovich's untitled (etched mirror), 1993; in the fading silver, forlorn sign-lettering of Jack Pierson's why, 1995; and in the long dangerous connotative elegance of the spinal-tap needle supporting Payne's own haunting and kooky (crisco) kisses, 1995, a work in the process of becoming present by embracing the body's silent void. …

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