Doug Ischar: GOLDEN GALLERY
Burton, Johanna, Artforum International
Doug Ischar's presentation of work at Golden Gallery might have appeared, to a visitor first walking in, a modest affair. Indeed, the gal-lerv itself is no more than a slim slice of storefront in SoHo. Yet the seven works assembled in "Sleepless" all deftly challenge any notion of modesty, wholly bucking that word's association with conventions of decorum and bodily restraint even while utilizing antispectacular formal elements and means. While quiet--clandestine, one might say--Ischar's work opens to the eye like a clenched orifice to the right touch. If that metaphor sounds more than vaguely lewd, I mean it to: The artist's approach balances the starkly explicit (realist even) with the deftly mctaphoric (poetic even) and in so doing strangely heightens both effects.
For "Sleepless," Ischar revisited works mainly made in the mid-1990s. Themes--masculinity, gay male desire, the devastation of the aids epidemic---run through the show like red threads, yet the various works cannot be reduced to any of them. One of two photographs taken in 1987 and printed this year pictures a municipal sign, presumably posted in particular neighborhoods to dissuade certain behaviors: One stick finger stands, legs slightly askew, while a second kneels in front of him, back turned to us. This dry-as-possible depiction of a blow job is pointedly completed with a 0, that graphic symbol we have been cross-culturally trained to read as "not allowed." Yet, in one slapdash gesture, an anonymous graffitist undercuts the edict, if only by pointing out that this ostensibly regulatory image itself illustrates the very activity it aims to outlaw: oh wow, exclaims the receiver; the giver, mouth full, purrs--MMMMMMMMM.
If there is humor in this work, there is eerie pathos too, horn of the feeling today, twenty-five years later, that such an image marks the end of an era. That said, together the works felt, true to the exhibition's title, less nostalgic than insomniac. …