Critics’ Picks

View of “John Neff Prints Robert Blanchon” 2011.

View of “John Neff Prints Robert Blanchon” 2011.

Chicago

John Neff

Golden Gallery, Inc. | Chicago
3319 N. Broadway
May 18–June 25, 2011

“John Neff Prints Robert Blanchon” resurrects a project by the late Blanchon, Untitled (aroma/1981), 1995––a work that, in turn, resurrects a lost period in history: the gay sexual revolution that had reached its ebullient heights in the late 1970s, just prior to the onset of HIV and AIDS. Blanchon’s installation consists of one hundred ads for sex products that he collected from gay magazines of the late 1970s and then photographed, leaving the resulting prints intentionally unfixed so that the images would fade over the course of exhibition. With each new set of prints, Blanchon could revive both the images and his viewer’s memories of their historical context. Regrettably, Blanchon’s sole set of negatives were lost sometime after his own death, in 1999, from AIDS-related complications.

John Neff also collects and (re)produces images that commingle an eroticized body with an idealized and often overtly imaginary space, as in an installation shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last year, depicting a fictitious (yet also subtly self-referential) artist’s studio–cum–gay porn lab where an improbable machine for replicating poses from queer sex publications was under development. For the current show, Neff took fifty-five extant Blanchon prints (a set had mistakenly been fixed, so its images survived), pinned them to the wall with map tacks, as Blanchon did, and rephotographed each using a copy and exposure unit whose form evokes that of the late artist’s glass sculpture Untitled (Drawing Horse), 1998, also exhibited here.

Neff’s own prints are appropriately left unfixed, but the new negatives—which Neff will donate to NYU’s Fales Library (home of Blanchon’s papers and collection)—may keep Blanchon’s piece alive indefinitely. Likewise, Neff has removed each rephotographed print from the wall and filled a second wall with new prints that will disappear as Blanchon intended. Neff has left all of the first wall’s pins in place, providing an elegiac reminder of what has passed, and a mapping of brand new possibilities.