New York

Alexander Apóstol

In his first solo show in the U.S., Alexander Apóstol presented a group of photo assemblages comprised of distressed negatives and prints—ranging in tone from gold to selenium—culled from various sources and then pasted or stitched together with coarse string. With their Starn-like facture, these works both mystify and delight, forming a kind of road map through the psychic landscape of this 26-year-old Venezuelan artist.

Many of the assemblages include conventional formal portraits that in this context take on an almost archetypal character. The top row of Sastre (Tailor, 1993) is comprised of six studio portraits of men in ties photographed against wrinkled backdrops. Below are two larger images: one side depicts a headless, quasihermaphroditic torso with arms and legs cut off à la Venus de Milo; the other, a man’s suit on a hanger. Although the work clearly plays with gender boundaries, as a whole it reads more like a meditation on the carnality so vehemently denied by the formality of the portraits.

Corazón (Heart, 1989) is a sort of signature image that at first glance seems overdetermined and trite: a calf’s heart pierced with a specimen hook and punctured with screws, nails, and two C-clamps. Upon reflection, however, the image yields a sadness that is not so easily dismissed. Toned golden brown and lit from above, this vision of a piece of meat held together with crude, mechanical prostheses is closely linked to Apóstol’s examination of the acculturated body in the rest of his works.

The prostheticized body evoked by Corazón becomes at once wacky and poignant in Mi Tia en la Peluquerfa (My aunt at the hairdresser’s or wig shop, 1993). Apóstol’s aunt is pictured in the center, naked from the waist up, an image of a bifurcated heart covering her breasts, her hair teased into artificial fullness. She is flanked by two male attendants who are pictured from the waist down, elaborate vegetation covering their genitals. The attendants’ splayed feet line up with the woman’s crossed hands lying in her lap, the vegetation lines up with the hairdo, and the heads of the penises line up with the aunt’s nose to form a truly memorable comment on the ideals of classical composition.

The assemblages Apóstol creates from images of buffaloes combine a kind of down-home folksiness with subtle subversion: in Spanish, the word “bufalo” is closely related to the word for “queer.” Bufalo I, 1991, features a frontal view of the animal with a row of stars stenciled over his head and a sensual close-up of a buffalo’s flank below, the two parts roughly sutured together as if in a feeble attempt to close a wound. And Bufalo II, 1991, depicts a full-figured buffalo in an oval frame with two well-muscled male arms stretched across the top in a handshake. Below, the image of the pierced and clamped heart returns, this time alongside an aerial photograph of pasture land, and together they offer an amusing portrait of the roving nature of desire.

Though a few pieces in this show slip into the simplistic didacticism of identity politics, overall the montage of autobiography and cultural signs is unusually potent. Religious icons, animal sacrifice, castration phobias, sign language, psychic portraits, and hypochondriacal dreams combine in a delirious tragicomedy about desire and the path it carves through all-too-mortal flesh.

David Levi Strauss