89 Eldridge Street
April 7 - May 14
Pornography isn’t often concerned with subtlety and wistful reflection, but Stephen Irwin treated it, in works on view in this posthumous exhibition, as a vehicle for elusive delicacy that repels our expectations. Pages from vintage magazines, gay and straight, have been removed, treated with solution, bleached, and carefully scrubbed of most imagery, transforming them into sculptural sheets of sepulchral timelessness. The remaining visual elements open the work to a reading as something like classical statuary, after the inevitable compulsion to discern the original compositions has been overcome. Irwin moves the source material from woozy Vaseline romance into ghostly academic studies, most fully realized in Untitled, 2008, where a Renaissance-style hand emerges from the creamy background, augmented with creases and tears suggesting age.
Several works permit partial detailed observation of a mouth, hair, or a patch of fabric, but voyeuristically so, via glory-hole motifs. Only another Untitled, 2008, seems incongruous here, showing sex too clearly and losing its balance in doing so. These works insist on dispassionate consideration of their marbled solemnity, an engagement utterly resistant to the impatient clicking and furtive snatching of internet-era pornography viewing.
A related suite of untitled graphite and pastel drawings, mostly from 2003, depicts faces on heat-treated plastic, warped and crinkled into haunting grotesques, evoking death masks. Their brittle appearance makes palpable the difficulty in accurately preserving memory, and the emotional value we place on rites and objects of remembrance such as this very exhibition.