Critics’ Picks

Doug Ischar, MW 1, 1985, color photograph, 26 x 40".

Doug Ischar, MW 1, 1985, color photograph, 26 x 40".


Doug Ischar

Golden Gallery, Inc. | Chicago
3319 N. Broadway
September 12–October 25, 2009

The languorous tangles of seminude men in Doug Ischar’s photographs resurrect lost moments in queer urban history. Heads resting against thighs, hands reaching across bare torsos to stroke damp hair; the glazed eyes and drowsy expressions of these men result not from sex or drugs but from the pleasures of sun and heat. Taken in the summer of 1985 at a gay lakeside hangout in Chicago known as the Belmont Rocks (removed in 2003 as part of a revetment project), Ischar’s images capture an era through its cultural effects: gold chains and zebra-striped bikinis, an outdated issue of Vanity Fair under a book about Diane Arbus, a pink plastic flamingo perched jauntily next to a dozing sunbather.

For the most part, the photographs function as mementos. AIDS was ravaging flesh and community at that time and formed the invisible backdrop against which these strewn bodies must inevitably be viewed. Yet Ischar’s inclusion of a new single-channel projection that depicts two 1960s-era men engaged in furtive versions of the activities shown in the photographs helps direct the exhibition away from purely sociological readings. Ischar has slightly altered this found piece of Super 8 footage by adjusting its playback speed and adding a translated portion of Walter Benjamin’s 1928 book One-Way Street and a sound track of Heinrich Schütz’s 1629 composition Symphoniae sacrae (Book 1). This 2009 piece, titled Forget Him, reminds us of the fleeting nature of bodies and the social landscapes that shape them.