Attila Richard Lukacs

Collectively titled “E-Werk” after a night spot in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Attila Richard Lukacs’ macho punks of the leftist-redskin or neofascist variety are cast as laborers in the new Germany. Though as solemn as the defenders of Rome in David’s The Oath of the Horatii, 1784–85, the gay boys in these paintings, who stand, stoop, or pose in the raw, are anything but heroic. These warriors are the scarred and sacrificial residue of Germany’s cultural miasma and the nation’s seeming incapacity to deal with its past and present. They act out their private scenarios as isolated enigmas in a city where rents have gone sky high and the tension and wild abandon that drew these people there has evaporated now that the wall is down, though their sense of political isolation and powerlessness has not.

Before moving to Berlin in 1986, Lukacs’ appetite for mocking the stereotypes of everyman’s art history had already surfaced in his rendition of Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, ca. 1770, in which the titular figure is transformed into a skinhead wearing Doc Marten boots set against an arcadian landscape as assiduous as the original. Given that he is such an accomplished painter, he enters into direct competition with the painters of the past: Lukacs is able to suggest that the classic images we see in any art-history book have as much to do with the propagandistic and political role art plays as with the power of the brush.

The six tableaux that comprise this show—his first museum exhibition—are enormous, and the part-real, part-imaginary homoerotic scenes are set amid the backdrop of today’s Berlin. Looking like a cross between The Village People and the reluctant muses of ’30s social realism, whether Stalinist or proto-Nazi, the workers in Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, 1991, include two central figures that echo those of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, 1642, who stare out at us while hard hats and smithies labour in a haze of heat and chiaroscuro.

The ideals of Neoclassical painting are made to appear rigid, yet are the very ground upon which Lukacs has chosen to paint these scenes of gay culture. As a result, irony here seems more rhetorical than sexual in nature, similar to the classical architectural backdrops—the Brandenburg Gate and the Altes Museum—that frame these works, sometimes in a state of recon- struction, other times simply there. The left panel of Wild Kingdom, 1992–93, depicts the Rape of Ganymede (Ganymede is considered one of the classic paradigms of homosexuality). Painted in a flaccid salon style, reminiscent of Bouguereau’s, the scene moves on to the central panel where a series of punks dressed in black, sporting ass’s heads, march with erect penises. The figure of Europa (the first female figure Lukacs has ever painted) is the anguished painter’s muse and holds a palette that reads “IMITAT.” Lukacs’ obsession with painterly precision is both uncanny and fabulous, a homoerotic art history that draws at will on any number of painterly and mythological sources, yet appears almost fake at times. The most compelling of all the pieces (and Lukacs’ most recent), Everybody Wants the Same Thing, 1993, is less ambitious, and as a result, more inherently powerful, as if Lukacs is choosing his subject matter and style less for effect than to express real feeling. Here, a junkie in blue takes a fix while a figure sits in an alcove above looking on. The textures of the wall, the inimitable splash of pink, graffitilike paint bring a note of sincerity to (and mark a further maturation of) this young and extremely gifted painter’s work.

John K. Grande