new-york

Joel-Peter Witkin

Pace/MacGill Gallery

Does Joel-Peter Witkin’s photograph of a headless corpse (its neck terminating in a meaty stump, its penis shrivelling into its fat stomach, its feet absurdly sporting black socks), repel you? We know that people who develop a familiarity with death can eat in the same room as a corpse and digest as happily as ever. It is illogical to say that death is intrinsically repellent; rather, we come to repel it, to say No to death. As English sociologist Geoffrey Gorer once declared, death has become the new pornography, replacing sex as society’s greatest taboo.

Witkin has long specialized in subjects to which society tends to say a resounding No: not just corpses, but sexual pariahs, circus freaks, and “physical prodigies of all kinds,” as he once put it. The generally necrotic black and white photographs in this new show employ the same elements that Witkin has combined and recombined for years:

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