247 West 29th Street
June 1 - July 15
Delicate poses, painted lips, silky dresses, and a serenely defiant gaze are a carefully scripted fuck-you to heteronormative gender codes in Lissa Rivera’s “Beautiful Boy,” her exhibition of photographs here. Rivera’s Fassbinderesque lighting and luscious, vibrant colors are tender, moving. She enthralls us, and that sensation comes from the show’s underlying narrative about the romantic relationship between the artist and her subject, BJ Lillis, the beautiful boy in question.
These photographs depict an androgynous man wearing makeup, sometimes nude or draped in feminine attire, staged in poses that recall the golden age of cinema, or the history of lovers’ photography (think Nan Goldin or Mark Morrisroe, for instance). Guided by a female gaze, Poolside, Family Home (all works cited, 2015) shows a poised BJ donning a white swim cap, arms crossed on the basin’s edge. His pale skin contrasts sharply with the deep blue of his eyes and the surrounding water; his lips, colored red, add a burst of fiery sensuality. In Eggleston Hair, Rivera tips her hat to one of photography’s most celebrated masters of color (and particularly his Untitled, 1974 (Biloxi, Mississippi), 1974). Here, BJ is lying on a mustard couch. His long, dishwater-blond hair spills onto the upholstery as he winsomely clutches his breast. The intimacy of Rivera’s images is stunningly palpable. Within the elaborate world that they’ve created for themselves, one can locate a warmhearted Pygmalion story for modern times.