New York

Graham Durward

Sandra Gering Gallery

In his recent work, Graham Durward takes on the archetype of the male artist-hero who derives his power from a manifest masculinity. Durward’s earlier work reflected a fluid notion of male identity; his large drawing of a hermaphrodite, Untitled, 1991, transformed the body to emphasize the mutability of heterosexual and homosexual practices. Combined with his intentionally schizophrenic writings, which detail a polymorphously perverse sexuality, this work was located at the edge of identity—where identity begins to fragment. His more recent works question the tenability of culturally defined male roles.

The exhibition began by pumping up the male ego until it exploded in phantasmagoric emissions. Determinedly unerotic, these works depict neither a nude Übermann nor Everyman, hut, rather, a half-naked Durward, denying the pleasure to be found in mythologized images of masculinity. Weights, 1992, presents an inverted ziggurat comprised of small photographs of a topless Durward in skin-tight bicycle shorts striking various bodybuilder poses. In Panaroma, 1992, he appears with “exclusive” stenciled across the waistband of his shorts and a woman ecstatically sinning his crotch. Durward’s point is that these male fantasies, unpalatable as they may be, are not going to disappear, nor can they be wished away: they must be unapologetically confronted.

As part of this position of intentional provocation, Durward attempts to demythologize the artwork; these pieces are bluntly, banally made, with little thought given to presentation or craft. Snow Drift, 1992, a large mound of artificial snow heavily stained with urine, points to the act of physically marking one’s territory as central to the masculine masquerade—with the inevitable tear shed at the white snow’s loss of purity. Black Emanation, 1992, is a parody of one of Julian Schnabel’s black velvet paintings in which Durward has seemingly ejaculated on the surface and initialed each of the resulting rivulets. He aspires to the heroics of the ’50s and early ’80s, but at the same time the self-consciousness and historical perspective of his pieces acknowledge the absurdity of his efforts.

This absurdity not only underlines the humor of Durward’s work but also points to the problematics of intermale identification and the construction of masculinity. Norman Bryson and Eve Sedgwick have outlined the tremendous exertion necessary to maintain the masculine masquerade—the constant cross-censorship of intermale surveillance. Despite the Herculean effort to exude masculinity in Weights, 1992, Snow Drift, and Black Emanation, Durward reveals it to be an ultimately inauthentic, failed, and ridiculous pose.

In order to heighten our sense of the inadequacy of masculinity and of the impossibility of achieving true phallic power, Durward invokes two masculine archetypes in his videotape of Marky Mark, and in Johnny Carson (Torso), 1992. Neither the “pec monster” nor the seamlessly “regular guy” make transparent identification possible: the viewer cannot simply step into either’s shoes, and this Impossibility points to the inferiority (lack) that is the root (or cause) of the masquerade Durward has so elaborately choreographed. By turns comic, ugly, and provocative, Durward’s work complicates the often overlooked problematics of male subjectivity.

Andrew Perchuk