Critics’ Picks

Tom Rubnitz, Pickle Surprise, 1989, video, color, sound, 1 minute 30 seconds.

Tom Rubnitz, Pickle Surprise, 1989, video, color, sound, 1 minute 30 seconds.

New York

“THINGS: a queer legacy of graphic art and play”

116 Elizabeth Street floor one
July 17–August 21, 2016

Curt McDowell’s soft, grainy voice trickles throughout his 16-mm film, Loads, 1980. The camera frames the low-cut pants of a man’s ass as McDowell quietly muses, “I’d like to be on a sling hanging from his back fucking him while he walked down the street if I could.” McDowell’s “If I could” makes celluloid a second skin, and second only to skin. His fantasy contraption, a creation that has him bouncing like a bad baby boy down the street on a man’s back, weaves desire into the world of objects.

This group exhibition, curated by Bradford Nordeen, houses an excess of whatchamacallits: the things we forgot in couch cushions—like Aimee Goguen’s plastic melted ephemera (face hat and bad dinosaur, both 2010)—which miraculously resurface. The show focuses on the work of McDowell, Tom Rubnitz, and Robert Ford, artists whose lives were cut short by the AIDS pandemic, along with a younger generation of queer agitators born in the 1980s. The handmade and meticulously placed boudoir vanity objects in Seth Bogart’s Necessities, 2015–16—a jumbo bottle of Truvada tablets, a Kimono-brand ultrathin condom wrapper, and a bottle of Jean Paul Gautier’s “Le Male,” among other items—with Rubnitz’s 1989 video Pickle Surprise, featuring drag goddess Sister Dimension shouting the titular phrase, make us feel that Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is the queer child’s portal between yesterday and today. Looming large on the far wall, original copies of Ford’s black queer underground zine Thing (1989–93) are near Brontez Purnell’s dancey Super 8 film Free Jazz, 2013, and Rafa Esparza’s paños puñales (cloth daggers). you can see it in their faces. uno (faggot handkerchiefs... one), 2011—white boxers with ballpoint-ink faces and dark smears of bodily fluids. The works in the show, at first glance, seem frivolous, like precious childhood junk disinterred from a basement. But these seemingly improvised artworks embody a reckless charm rather unconcerned with the sterility of an LGBT archive.