The personal and idiosyncratic nature of sex – not porn, which is a private act made public but personal, quirky, fetishistic sexual preferences, private acts kept private – informs his group exhibition at the Stephen Cohen Gallery. Co-curated by Tulsa Kinney and Paige Wery, “In the Realm of the Lenses” shows the repercussions when new media (camera phones, for instance) proliferates content while the Internet, an incredibly efficient content distribution system, disseminates it.
Were you to enter the gallery unaware of the show’s curatorial premise, the first photograph you see, Ray Beldner’s Old School, would seem straightforward. An off-centered shot of a bedroom, tastefully decorated, a quasi-Old Master print on the wall, a fragment of a woman’s head. Nothing seems remiss except that perhaps the shutter went off, prematurely. Typically when that happens, with a digital device, you delete it. Not here. The herky-jerkiness is deliberate: something went off because, upon closer inspection, you realize that she’s caught in mid-fellation. Same with Beldner’s two other pieces, Farm Boy (a humorous take on the plowing that might occur in the farm scene print on the wall and the plowing taking place on the bed) and Toucans (an equally humorous formalistic correlation between a print that depicts birds and the “tramp stamp” tattoo that adorns a woman’s lower back). Their tone – and the tone of the rest of the show - feels unstaged and scruffy, more documentation than arousal: the sort of keepsake that might result, say, from a pinpoint camera hidden at a bachelor party.
Though the work on display contains elements that seem more furtive than evocative, the show’s less about the nature of the images and more about the fact that they’re displayed in the first place. The images may be candid, the acts the portray may be made between two consenting adults, but, by their nature, they are not meant to be made public. Not that this writer knows anything first-hand about this but she’s been told that there’s a web site on which dumped boyfriends can upload sex tapes they made during happier times with their ex-girlfriends. That’s the sense of this exhibition, a sense that everyone now lives in a glass house. The images are voyeuristic (Gerald Forster’s Nocturnal #16: a parking lot fornication caught from a distance; Christopher Russell’s Landscape: images that hide a rustic b.j. amidst landscape shots). They are quirky (Marta Edmisten’s pinkpussypanties: correspondence and images that document requests to purchase unwashed woman’s underwear; Austin Young trio of images of tattooed, be-blinged dudes with female private parts; Naida Osline’s Untitled experiments that conflate botany and anatomy). And they are framed by an on-the-sly sensibility that suggest the photographer’s anxieties about revealing herself as image maker and/or subject at the same time she removes yet another layer of her identity. Their iconography would suggest a Freudian veil dance except the unveiling isn’t exactly deliberate.
This intersection of the means to simultaneously capture and then post images anywhere, anytime, suggests the prospect of a fly on the wall aesthetic similar to the omniscient POV of the novelist who weaves time, geography, and private history to create a nexus between narrative and simultaneity. Its strategy reverses the tactics of advertising. Advertising coaxes out inchoate desires to form manipulative cues upon which we consciously or unconsciously act in a public manner, i.e., consume. This exhibition, with images shorn from their original and intimate context, creates desires, one of which includes the urge to keep them private.