Critics’ Picks

View of “Desire,” 2010. From left: James Drake, Her Tank Top, 2008; Marilyn Minter, Crystal Swallow, 2006; Adam Pendleton, Missing Emmett (materials and instructions), 2005; Petah Coyne, Untitled #1103 (Daphne), 2002–2003.



Blanton Museum of Art
200 East Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
February 5–April 25, 2010

The difficulty in talking about “Desire,” the Blanton’s deliciously problematic assembly of international contemporary artists, without using “I” or “we” speaks to the show’s efficacy. In attempting to sort out the forty-six works in this show, one wants to use personal pronouns: Do I like this? Do you? Does she? But videos like Isaac Julien’s Long Road to Mazatlan, 1999, whose narrative in certain moments combines the restrained aggression of cruising with Javier de Frutos’s modernist choreography, both implicate and exclude the observer, underscoring the argument that desire is not proprietary to any particular ontology. Feelings of desire are prompted by lack, which is an individual concern shared by most cultures, and this exhibition argues for locating lack somewhere between the individual and the social, sexuality and reverence, longing and ineffable presence.

A commendable feature is that none of the works are interactive in the late- or post-twentieth-century sense, but most employ a sense of touch or reference it in some way, which prompts questions about the position of satisfaction with respect to desire. Kalup Linzy’s video Lollipop, 2006, shows the two men lip-synching to the 1933 blues song of the same name. Coupled with the titillating lyrics, Linzy and Shaun El C. Leonardo’s gentle travesty (they’re shirtless, but wearing gender- and period-appropriate hats) is hilarious because of its very incompleteness. Petah Coyne’s puce-colored flowers in Untitled #1103 (Daphne), 2002–2003, simultaneously beckon and repulse. “Desire” troubles binaries and also makes them more legible, productively embodying the word’s implied unfulfillment.