Saturday, February 12, 2011

how do you spell Queen?

Tuesday. Two shows, on neighboring blocks but worlds apart. On some bed ridden week-day chatter with a friend a few days prior, I was sent a mildly pornogrpahic image of two boys occupying the same fashion-y white dress, one giving the other a blowjob. She'd (my chat friend) just come across the image and didn't know it's maker. She found it way hot. We guessed at the nationality of these boys - I guessed French or German while she was way off the mark with British. Well, it turns out the boys over at Gayletter knew - of course! - and recommended Luigi and Luca's (Italian, duh) exhibition at Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation on Tuesday night. The exhibition was the sort of affair you're meant to just accept given the "Foundation's" self-designation as a venue for thriving gay culture, but I could barely keep my cool in a room flanked by lusty collectors ogling fashion photographs of a hot couple fellating each another and shelling out cash for the sake of "art". The economic arrangement of the show assured that all (most) tastes and price-ranges were accounted for, with a hot-lighted vitrine displaying more edition oriented formats as opposed to those larger works that also graced the walls. And boi was stuff selling. Everything, I know, has its place, and if the "gay community" would like to perpetuate this material being exhibited as its chosen "fine art," than so be it. I'd prefer to call the work ephemera of visual culture. This preferential treatment of commoditizable desire (aka, where desire for the subject becomes equated with the overall value of the work) was what drained the life out of queer cinema in the 90s, so I have a particular axe to grind. To me, the work on the walls was decorative accents, collectables towards the construction of A-Gay lifestyle. I'd imagine it was an art opening those boys on the Logo show A-List would attend. And maybe there's something way positivistic to say about the ability to establish and sustain a kind of gay capitalism for the furthering of gay image production and visual culture. As the Gayletter boys tweeted at the show, there were a great number of NYC queer art mavens on parade - my friend, Max Steele and his counterpart Daniel Portland from band B0dy H1, Gio Black Peter, and, of course, those darling Gayletter boys themselves. Still, I felt completely at odds in this "community" affair as the foundation would have it, atomized apart from this market segment.

So, I guess I headed over to "my" show, which was a total mind-fuck. The Swiss Institute - hot off their Chris Kraus reading - was opening with photographs by Karlheinz Weinberger, a Swiss photographer who took physique pictorials in the 1950s and documented a 1950s counter-cultural trend in Switzerland - gangs who took up American iconography with a polyamorous ferocity: Little Richard, Elvis, James Dean, Hells Angels, Nazism - well, I guess that's not really American. Like the Bikers in Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising, the subjects of the exhibition, "Intimate Stranger" work with loaded visual signifiers in an echolalia of attitude. Not only do the counter-culture carnies in Weinberger's photographs tote these cultural referents, they fashion their own rag-tag regalia by pasting magazine cut-outs on 7" brass belt-buckles, self fashioning horseshoe codpieces and lacing screws through the flies of too-tight jeans. The fandom on offer here isn't a kind of fidelitous obsession, it's an immediate and beautiful kind of devotion to a mythical foreignicity, a lifestyle that in America was really only an ideal, never a possibility. When Kenneth Anger returned from an 8-year stint in Paris, he made Scorpio Rising because he discovered an alien America, an America driven by these new rebel images that (particularly in Anger's work) flirted like a pop-cultural Thanatos. There's a palpable mix of femme eroticism and violence in Weinberger's images, as these tough guys with swastika armbands and facial scars, pout and pose like drag contestants before a backdrop. The Institute was smart to offer cans of Budweiser for the opening and the hipster attire of various crowd members made the show feel immersive. I met filmmaker Theis Ulrik Jessen in the lobby and also wrangled a press copy of Rizzoli's accompanying catalogue: Rebel Youth with a forward by John Waters. Review forthcoming. THE SHOW IS A MUST-SEE.

On Wednesday I showed off my culinary skills to some lovely writers and film folk for my first formal dinner party at our E Williamsburg abode. Yes, girl, I tried my best to expand these Bachelor cooking techniques to include chicken and dumplings and pumpkin pie - and from scratch! Well, I came away with a laundry list of movie recommendations... though most mysteriously involve actresses having sex with monkeys.

On Thursday I had a beautiful New York day. Just having received the flyers for the upcoming William E. Jones / Fred Halsted edition of Dirty Looks, I went to go flyer my life away, all over town. It's very icy here, but when you're on the move, it don't feel that bad. First stop, I picked up some new black jeans that I was having altered and walked them to Participant, where Lia Gangitano was revving up for a the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's College Art Association reception. CAA is having their mega-conference in New York right now and I'm not going. I even worked there last year, so getting in on a dime wouldn't be an issue. I'm just in a really oppositional mood to academia at the moment - which filmmaker and queer ambassador Ira Sachs chided me over later that night - but I'm getting ahead of myself. I changed into my new jeans in the Participant bathroom since the holes in my uniform black jeans were really getting dire and popped out only to run into Photi on the street, director of Callicoon Gallery. He's so nice. I dropped flyers off at the Quad, at Kim's video. I tried Anthology but they weren't open. Basically, I walked across town on a brisk but lovely sunny Thursday, stopping by Zürcher Studio, to chat up the gallery assistant about their impending art fair alternative, Salon Zürcher, a more individual response to the Armory Art Fair week. Popping into various other institutions to drop off my cards, I finally settled into a cafe in the West Village where my friend works and we kibitzed for an hour or so until I made way to the opening of I <3 Boy a new book launching at The Powerhouse, in Dumbo. The opening was sufficiently mobbed and I was able to catch up with Timmy Pico, tireless harbringer of Birdsong Mag. Tommy's moving to Paris - lucky - for the summer, to beat the heat (and hopefully some Parisian boys while he's at it). I think tommy's micropress efforts with the zine are great - and will only improve with an international ratchet on the belt.

Attending with my friend Herbert, he convinced me to go back to Julius cause I read an invite wrong and though that the CAA Queer Art Caucus social was Thursday night. So we went and had burgers, trying to figure out who was CAA. None were. It was Friday night. Silly me. But we were joined by my friend Chad and a present surprise found Ira Sachs and his lovely BF, artsist Boris Torres, who I've heard so much of but never met, stopping by. I had a lovely chat with Ira, who I've been quite fond of ever since I wrote a piece on his Charles Ludlam evening at Queer/Art/Film. A truly staunch supporter of queer community politics, Ira's always a great conversationalist and very supportive. Suffice to say, what was meant as a quiet evening ended at 4 am.

Which left me a wreck for Friday. Though I was able to make it to my friend, Zackary Drucker's presentation with Flawless Sabrina of Zackary's new film, 'At Least You Know You Exist' and the 1968 documentary starring Flawless, The Queen alongside Joe Jeffrey's 'The Queen: After Party Outtakes.' The West village LGBT center, which hosted the event, was PACKED. Hundreds of people turned out for this event. Attending the screening, you're privy to a kind of kindred love affair between Zackary and Sabrina. To me, true queens are the ladies who don't shut themselves off inside a role, but are constantly changing, learning and teaching, which is something that Flawless highlighted in her conversation. Zackary's film looked immaculate shot in 16mm on a wind-up Bolex. It's more a rumination too, and the difference between Flawless' performative hijinx and Zackary's high-gloss modeling does stand out. Like many contemporary artists, Zackary's body (and body of work) has become more a platform to discuss a queer (trans) history and how that has shifted over the years. It's become decidedly more marketable as a cultural product, a trait always in evidence through Zackary's haute couture stylings. But to deride this is missing the point, which is celebratory and educational - like William E. Jones, Zackary is manning an archive and attempting to work these personal histories into his film, performance and photographic practice. A highlight of the evening came when a question emerged from the audience regarding Zackary's nude performance in the film. "That was so erotic," a female commentator asked, "is that the first time you've been nude in film?" Ever the performer, Zackary allowed a slight pause to become pregnant before extolling, "It's not the first time..." "And hopefully it's not the last," cooed Flawless.

The straight-forward doc couldn't help but make me think of Rupaul's Drag Race, which is really very good this season. I've been joking recently that I don't know how I know life without it! But The Queen exists as both a cultural artifact while conversely showcasing how quite a bit seems rather unchanged. Of course, the idea of pageantry is really conservative, so the almost identical format from this 1968 Town Hall performance to Ru's stage presentations is not a huge shock. There's a pretense towards agency in Ru's show, where the girls must exhibit creativity in overcoming challenges, though it's frequently thwarted, as in the case of that odious winner last year, who displayed the same kind of flaccid "realness" mimicry that Queen winner Harlot exhibited onstage. In street footage, Harlot was fascinating, but the kind of messy identity politics that are frequently bubbling under popular drag contests still exhibit some ugly shadows of hetero envy 40-some-odd years later.


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