New York

Jack Pierson

Luhring Augustine | Chelsea

Check in to jackness as into a hotel, because the jack in Jack Pierson has the same Schiaparelli dazzle as the jack in Jackie O., deep-lilac perfume of tragedy, too; spunk of jacking-off and of Jack Russell terriers; sweet immediacy of porn, delicacy of violets, pansy expanse of Jack Smith. Jackness is a fraction, Diane Arbus divided by Diana Ross; all the roses here buzzing pink divided by all the roses long gone. Lover and ex in the same lovely body. Laughing until crying.

I wish all the pages about Pierson’s esthetic of the pathetic, as if his work were only a blueprint of dejection, would burn up and blow way. Unless the mango contentments of the autoerotic, unless contemplation, dreaming, reading, cruising, talking, and singing to oneself or not; unless someone alone remembering something to believe in—a big blue beyond, God perhaps—remembering because someone else can’t anymore or won’t, remembering fpr them; unless these are suddenly all abject affairs, then Pierson’s is not a pathetic esthetic. There is mourning and there is morning. He finds the business of beauty always going on in the midst of mess, finds the mess in the midst of beauty—oh, Elizabeth Taylor in The Only Game in Town, squeaking like an overgrown Chihuahua to Warren Beatty, “I. Love. You. God. Damn. It.”

The ocean will remain long after anyone has finished projecting a story of his feelings onto it. So will blue and all its associations, of which Pierson’s last show at Luhring Augustine was an amazing index: sex, movies, smoke, sequins, tears, forget-me-nots, bruises, eyes a shade of drowning. Time’s scent is L ’Heure Bleue. In “Edward Hopper and Jack Pierson: American Dreaming,” Pierson’s contribution to the Whitney’s “Collection in Context” series, actual blues, brave lessons in how to endure, light and shadow’s silent dramas connect Pierson and Edward Hopper, but where Hopper’s actors are anonymous, Pierson adds specifics (via Fairfield Porter and Peter Hujar)—friends, lovers, and attractions named. Pierson’s is curating as homage, interpretation, translation, and pleasure: he translates (and is translated by) the works of Hopper, the way Frank O’Hara translated Jean Genet’s “Un Chant d’Amour” in Fuck You; the way Miss Peggy Lee interprets Harold Arlen. His new installation, Without You, 1994, is a bedroom for a torchsong—where without you (Hopper) would Pierson he doing what he is doing?; where without you (the beloved) why bother doing at all?

When you see Hopper’s “Study for Girlie Show,” 1941, (inscribed “for my wife Jo”) among Pierson’s own photos and drawings, you are seeing a work not seen in a while and a work never seen before: dark exploration of fantasy’s queer theater, maybe now to be called Lonely Girl, 1991, like its Pierson neighbor. Pierson wired this show as complexly as a switchboard: Hopper’s “Jo” connects with Jo Van Fleet (in Pierson’s brilliant Self-Portrait, 1993) who stares at James Dean, her son in East of Eden, 1955. In Self-Portrait, where pages from a James Dean obituary fanzine repeat in a grid reminiscent of Joseph Cornell’s and Andy Warhol’s dream yearbooks, Pierson demonstrates how knowledge of movies (star knowledge) is self-knowledge, another way of thinking about the psyche: not my id, my ego, and my superego, but my Edith Massey, my Brad Pitt, and my Anjelica Huston. My Brad Pitt was hurt when you laughed at my body. This grid of stars called the self haunts Pierson’s The Golden Hour, 1990, a boxed-in strip of photos of a star on the walk of stars ready to be engraved with some new star’s name or the name of someone dear only to Pierson, star of his everyday.

In 1979, Joan Didion published her book of essays, The White Album, in which she tried “to see what it means” to think about and live in America, a project whose challenge is echoed in Pierson’s contextualizing of Hopper, and addressed expressly in Pierson’s “rewriting” of the The White Album’s first page. As if his desires were scattered like birds across America and it were his duty to find, invent, and dream them again, Pierson is “writing” what might be called The Blue Album. Words from Sonic Youth gloss it: “All your dreams will come true. All my dreams came true. But . . . now . . . I have a bunch of other dreams.”

Bruce Hainley