Critics’ Picks

Happy Birthday, 2005.

Happy Birthday, 2005.

San Francisco

Tariq Alvi

The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
360 Kansas Street
April 7–May 14, 2005

There are two wheelchairs in Tariq Alvi's new installation, both encrusted with tantalizing materials. One is covered in white and blue floral cake frosting and the remnants of forty burned birthday candles; the other sports a fleshy mosaic collage of gay porn pictures. The latter wheelchair hangs upside down from the ceiling, like a body encountering an obstacle in the process of ascension—an easy-to-overlook beacon of mortal eroticism. The spare exhibition—titled “Super Pride and Super Prejudice” (after the recent discovery of a hardy new strain of AIDS) and made during a residency in San Francisco, a city that still maintains a reputation as a gay Mecca—finds Alvi mulling ideas about sex, death, and inflated desires. Another key element is a gigantic t-shirt with the phrase I [HEART] SUPER HIV emblazoned across the chest. Across a wide expanse of gallery, it faces a video monitor that shows the bare torso of a man whose thinness is a stark contrast to the XXXX-largeness of the shirt. Alvi sets up the uncomfortable but pervasive gay male emotional spectrum of pumped-up egos and muscles on the one hand and a palpable sense of physical fragility on the other. The values and ideas to which he alludes shift with the winds—of morality, medicine, and emotional yearning.