New York

Collier Schorr

My college roommate was from New York, and for the first semester at our midwestern school she was overcome by the exotic charms of the few lumbering, corn-fed lads in attendance. Being rather more homegrown myself, I thought them at best dim, at worst a little scary. Collier Schorr sees them both ways.

In her latest show, boys will be boys, for once; this is a rare nonautobiographical exhibition for Schorr, a case where her subjects aren’t her stunt doubles. Instead, there is an anthropological cast to the wrestlers and soldiers and assorted teens photographed here, grimacing as Schorr probes their masculinity. With their athletic gear and hormonal intensity, they are unmistakably “foreign” (although they are indistinguishably both German and American), and even a little frightening—you can almost smell them in the neutered Chelsea gallery space. Blunt-faced, they cock and bull their way through these photographs, even when bruised and battered (Bloody Nose, Ice Pack, both 1998); there is something brutish about the leering boy in Blow-up, 1999, with his cavernous nostrils, big teeth, and heavy eyebrows. For all that, maybe he’s a little cute.

Occasionally a boy looks sweet, as in Player, 1999, which features a seemingly introspective black teenager against a dim landscape, but we find him again in Tennis Court, 1998, staring into the camera, fiercely competitive. These boys, flushed and dazed with the exhilaration of nature and sport and their own bodies, could be actors in some conservative propaganda campaign. The monumental, Aryan-looking track teamster in Trifekta (Ice, Ice Baby), 1998, flaunts his beefy blondness, underlined by his “Vikings” uniform. But Schorr’s formal style is closer to that of the deadpan Kodachrome snapshot, which ironically particularizes its subjects, describing rather than aestheticizing. We fluctuate between seeing these boys through the adoring eyes of local teenage girls (as glorious) and as they appear to Chelsea gallerygoers (as other).

The movie Schorr produced for the show, Tremolo Americana, 1998, stands apart from the photos. Its complex allure opens it up to different genders and preferences, drawing the film closer to Schorr’s past work. Set to a Hendrix sound track, it captures the sexy, rapturous meeting of a soldier and his girl. The camera caresses the outline of the soldier, the curve of his ear, the fine and downy hairs of his nape—places that entice without reference to secondary sexual characteristics. Schorr is great with necks.

Then we hit the uniform lapel and the medal pinned to its breast, and we are into gendered territory, which the film celebrates as well—the tie, the metal buckle on the web belt, the brush-cut hair. The specificity of gender signs clashes with the humanness of skin. We suspect that these are actors, then that they are both women; this ambiguity both emphasizes the performance aspect of the experience and invites a broader “us” into the image. The guitar music electrifies the lovers’ swirling embrace. And even the music goes both ways: As the film repeats, two mixes alternate between funky and rock renditions of Hendrix, introducing a duality of black/ white to go with that of boy/girl.

No Jenny-come-lately to the suddenly fashionable topic of masculinity, Schorr confidently pins these boys to mats and frames and walls. But in staging her own version of their heterosexual essence, she proves distortion to be more compelling than reality.

Katy Siegel