Libidinal Charge: A Summer Group Show at Greenspon
The Seam, the Fault, the Flaw at Greenspon Gallery
June 28 to August 3, 2018
71 Morton Street, between Greenwich and Hudson streets
New York City, greenspongallery.com
Pierre Klossowski is the Mycroft Holmes of the visual arts, the “smarter” older brother of the more widely celebrated Balthus. He is also a connector of two summer group shows united by sexual subplots but exuding very different vibes: Putting Out at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, on the Lower East Side, and The Seam, The Fault, The Flaw, at Greenspon in the West Village. Each show boasts a large colored pencil drawing by the renowned, enigmatic Parisian artist and literary personality, though they are put to strikingly different curatorial usage.
At Greenspon, Klossowski presides over a bacchanal of kinky figuration that takes its literary title from Roland Barthes (a friend who sat for Klossowski on more than one occasion). At Brown, by contrast, the work is a solipsistic interloper in a show more concerned with the economics than the compulsions of sex. (Putting Out will be reviewed in these pages in due course, in conjunction with an exhibition just opened at ClampArt, Rough Trade: Art and Sex Work from the Late 20th Century.) Klossowski, who died in 2001, finds himself nestled in a corner between photographic works of subversive tattoos (observed by Juliana Huxtable) and a portrait of a forlorn sex worker by Philip-Lorca diCorcia.
Back at Greenspon, Klossowski’s wan, slow-to-focus image depicts a figure – draped in what could be a crusader’s long-hooded cloak – at once embraced and rebuffed by a languorous, androgynous youth. This latter, supine and bare-chested in red stockings, seems inviting in the relaxed openness of his limbs but ambiguously places a hand over the face of his cassocked seducer. The title, Le commandeur de St. Vit séduit par le jeune Ogier, reverses the more overt sense of who is taking the erotic lead in this ritualistic scene.
Another historic, but no less wacky artist, Louis Eilshemius, keeps Klossowski company in what is otherwise a show of contemporary art. He is represented by two watercolors and an oil of nymphs of various ages besporting themselves in bucolic surroundings. Both Corot and Henry Darger come to mind in Eilshemius’s warped pastoralism, not to mention the extreme awkwardness of his style, yet somehow this late symbolist naïveté run amok is often mysteriously evocative, as much a kind of late Victorian fairy painting as a precursor of Surrealism. Eilshemius was a friend to the avant garde, and it adds a twist to his coupling here with Klossowski to recall that when Picasso first met Balthus he advised the young painter to look at the eccentric American.
The eroticism in the light-saturated scenes of Eilshemius and Klossowski tends towards the furtive; not so the rampant action in the darkened cellars of Jimmy Wright’s graphite drawings of 1970s leather bars, with their tough, gritty evocations of rough trade in dark corners. The artist known for most of his career for exuberant, expressionist flower paintings worked (and it would seem played) underground in the pre-AIDS New York he discovered on moving via Chicago from his native Kentucky. Legendary clubs like the Anvil brought out a combination of Francis Bacon interiors and Henry Moore shelter drawings to produce something at once mythic and visceral. His figuration is equal parts Leon Golub and Tom of Finland. A more tender touch – from artist and lovers alike – emerges from the bathhouse drawings, especially an exquisite drawing in watercolor pencil of a guy feeding his partner poppers where hastily scribbly yet resolved hieratic heads, very redolent of early Hockney, dissipate into fey and stylized lower limbs in a way that mimics, perhaps, the clarifying rush and melting away effects of the narcotic. The overt sexuality of Wright’s youthful drawings ought to send us back to his flowers to look for a second subject, the equivalents of buff he-men and writhing limbs amidst the tendrils and petals.
What is emerging, perhaps, in the group so far is a sense of an erotic present tense underwritten by antique precedent: the medievalism of Klossowski, the classicism of Eilshemius, the expressionist forebears of Wright. A similar fusion of lust and elegy emerges in a poignant group of painterly sketches of orgy scenes on old-fashioned ladies club stationery mounted on what look like foxed or age-distressed pages (they are in fact barbequed paper) by Emily Sundblad. These are part of a series the artist worked on, in the aftermath of the superstorm Sandy, mostly in bed, in a club where she was taking refuge, and were intended as illustrations to a translation of Klossowski’s La Monnaie Vivante, a text where he argues for the body as an alternative model of currency. The artist has recounted how coming off antidepressants and rediscovering her libido stimulated the pansexual aspect of her iconography. These tight, fiddly yet frenetic images mix urgency and interiority in touch and motif alike. They bring Degas monotypes, Cézanne brothel scenes and Picasso’s Vollard suite to mind, but giving the works a conceptual twist is Sundblad’s choice of eyeliner as a medium, literalizing a notion of bodily exchange.
A pop aesthetic from the remaining artists – Loretta Fahrenholz, E’wao Kagoshima and Eliza Douglas – seems to want to take this libidinal show in a more cerebral direction. That said, subversive intersections of the body and social space – Kagoshima’s bisecting juxtaposition of a male nude and a supersonic jet in a 1981 collage, Fahrenholz’s ghosts of painterly smudge within a photographic image of a laboratory in a recent lenticular print – offer enough suggestive or visual resonances not to deflate the libidinal charge.