New York

John Lindell

Tom Cugliani Gallery

John Lindell takes on some very heavy subjects—all of which have to do, in one way or another, with stereotypes of masculinity. Consider, for example, the tradition of Conceptual art and the certificates issued by Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, Sol LeWitt, and Donald Judd, among others, redeemable for authentic works of art. Think of how quickly a great idea was submerged by territorial disputes over who had it first, and of the guns fired in the legal battle several years back between Judd and Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, when the latter cashed in his certificate and made a Judd without Judd’s participation. Think of how replacing big beautiful objects with pieces of paper was meant to emancipate ideas from the superfluous materialism of art—and then how the ephemera itself became precious. It’s a chapter of contemporary art history rife with male power-plays.

Lindell also issues certificates that come in nice little kits containing various templates or slides and instructions for realizing your very own Lindell wall drawing. There’s even a place to record when and where it’s realized, when it’s removed, and its provenance. The floating signifiers of certificates, reproduction rights, authenticity, and value are still compelling, though thoroughly familiar. Lindell knows this, and has fun with the seriousness of it all. His wall drawings fall into two categories: diagrammatic configurations of circles, ellipses, triangles, and dots (the visual stock and trade of scientific formulas), and sections of appropriated texts. Both science and language connote various “authorities” coded as “male” and “objective” that Lindell proceeds to dismantle through diagrammatic and textual representations of graphic gay sex. In Big Dipper (all works 1992), a genital constellation charts sexual positions for male lovers, while six different wall texts, taken from various porn stories, present steamy accounts of foreplay and fucking.

And this brings up another heavy topic: the politics of gay sexuality. Consider activism, by way of Lindell’s participation in Gran Fury and ACT UP, and, by association, the political rifts that have splintered activist communities into virtually warring camps. Admit, as well, that many in the art world have for years privately referred to the growing number of artists who make art about homosexuality, and their dealers of similar persuasion, as the “gay mafia” or “gay cartel”; and don’t forget the burning crosses of political correctness set to blaze on many a threshold today—then you have the perfect context for viewing Lindell’s Flag, an enormous white ensign, its full satiny drapery unfurled from a pole erected in the gallery. It really is quite beautiful, sort of ethereal and emblematic of all the things that flags can be emblematic of—including, of course, the white flag of surrender (political, sexual, take your pick).

Looking at Big Dipper’s constellation, and figuring out where the nipples go and where the balls fall, or imagining the angle of penetration of this or that position mapped out on the wall (and how it would feel), and then remembering that the “original” idea of certificates concerned, among other things, “exchange value” and “use value,” makes us laugh as we realize that we can also add “comic value” to the list. The sumptuous folds of Flag prolong our laughter: not only might a kind of truce on the political front be in order, but in poking fun at forms of male aggression (territoriality, sovereignty, and patriotic claims of prowess) Lindell also alludes, rather lasciviously, to male sexual organs—they unfold, fall heavily, stand erect, drape splendidly, etc. He also plays bawdy games with the wall texts—they read from bottom to top, making the highly erotic and certifiably pornographic passages the only thing about the texts that makes sense. Lindell’s work never fails to evoke humor, even frivolity. The jokes are good; so is the sex. And neither compromises the seriousness of the issues he addresses, nor the intelligence of his approach.

Jan Avgikos