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Walter Pfeiffer

Galerie Sultana
10 rue Ramponeau
September 16–November 12

Walter Pfeiffer, untitled, 2016, silver print on resin-coated satin paper, 59 x 39”.

In the 1964 sherbet-hued rom-com Send Me No Flowers, Rock Hudson’s character thinks he’s dying and tries to get his wife, played by Doris Day, to marry one of her old college flames, who’s become quite wealthy. She, however, thinks her husband is setting her up so that he can have an affair with another woman. . . . If she only knew. Humor, death, love, and a touch of the screwball are never out of sight in the works of Walter Pfeiffer, whose current exhibition borrows its title from the film. Since the 1970s, Pfeiffer’s photographs, mainly of pretty young men, have always been too arty for fashion, and too fashiony for art. This might have something to do with the artist’s commitment to an unrepentant gay eroticism that’s likely made both camps, at various times, more than slightly uncomfortable.

Two untitled 2016 wallpaper works of cut flowers are the backdrop for his untitled black-and-white photographs from 1984, 1986, and 2016. Some of Pfeiffer’s men are obscured by messy bangs or the harsh shadow of a venetian blind, or turned just enough to titillatingly reveal a freshly shaven nape. Pfeiffer has no interest in gay hardcore or dilettantish Insta-snaps of melancholy ephebes. He lurks somewhere in between, steeped in the thrall of desire and cut by lust. There’s a beguiling 2016 photograph that, at first glance, looks like something vaguely floral. After what felt to me like an eternity of scrutiny, it revealed itself to be a boy behind a curtain of glass in a shower, bent over. His face and larval-looking, green-lit abdomen complement the fleshy pink curve of his back. And the print’s pigments seem runny, as if it’s been splashed by water.

In a thirty-five-second video loop, Untitled, 2016, Pfeiffer finally gives us a face, joyously bobbing up and down from a bushel of tulips. Perhaps the locus of Pfeiffer’s work is time—specifically, the way it gets stopped in a picture, and how that stilled moment heightens erogenous contingency.

Jo-ey Tang