Critics’ Picks

Lucas Michael, Being Bree, 2010, still from a color video, 12 minutes 51 seconds.

Lucas Michael, Being Bree, 2010, still from a color video, 12 minutes 51 seconds.

San Francisco

Lucas Michael

Jessica Silverman
621 Grant Avenue
June 11–July 17, 2010

Lucas Michael’s latest exhibition presents a series of suggestive codes and partial ciphers that slowly but surely seduce viewers into his stark and insightful exploration of sexuality. As its title implies, “After Hours” treads on some nebulous terrain: The large-scale charcoal and graphite number drawings turn out to be one-to-one renderings of building signs for sex clubs; a series of soft sculptures, haphazardly arranged, come to evoke the commingling of bodies; and an imposing mirrored booth is in fact a replica of a glory hole. In each of these cases, Michael expertly subverts elements of graphic design, using its elegant lure to implicate viewers as unwitting spectators. Under the glare of the gallery lights, we are suddenly faced (if not propositioned) with an illicit encounter that opens onto an intimate meditation on the nature of compulsion, fantasy, transgression and the politics of sublimation.

Invariably, a subtle if somewhat elusive political undercurrent surfaces in this work—particularly in the series of pencil drawings of outmoded books pathologizing homosexuality. However, the impact of these renderings relies as much on their historical import as on the way in which they imbricate personal history with questions of material and process. In this, Michael evokes Tom Burr, creating spare but emotive interventions that undermine Minimalist solipsism with the exigencies of affect. This is a delicate negotiation that at its best employs the idea of the personal to rethink the aesthetics of reduction. The approach is perhaps best captured by the single-channel video Being Bree, 2010, in which the artist re-creates the therapy sessions from the 1971 film Klute. In split screen, Michael acts out both call girl and therapist in a deliberately lo-fi exchange. As simple as it is haunting, the compelling performance ultimately proves to be less about the semiotics of desire than about tracing a logic that never quite adds up.