New York

Collier Schorr

In this show, Collier Schorr turned up the volume on her perennial favorite subject—teenage boys—and drew us once again into privileged proximity with a company of high school pugilists whose inner circle she happens to have penetrated. Her fascination with young athletes is reflected in the proportions of her big, new color photographs (measuring up to four by three feet) and the heightened drama she pumps into her pictures. By means of pronounced chiaroscuro she transforms the ordinariness of an empty gym into a moody film noir set—its stark, stripped-down stage and after-hours atmosphere resounding with layers of ambiguity (and, we’re prompted to imagine, reeking with sweat)—as real-life players spar, pose, and otherwise perform, seemingly for her alone.

As if to amplify the theatricality of “look but don’t touch” that ripples through the close encounters she orchestrates, and perhaps to fan our absorption in and complicity with her imagery, Schorr extended her stagecraft to include the gallery, trading in white for rich gray walls and natural light for pin spots and covered windows. The proposed “conceptual conductivity” between image and environment mirrored the sympathetic magic percolating in Schorr’s photographs, as viewers inadvertently piggyback on the artist’s own desire. From one large-format image to the next, we rove fields of masculine flesh with our energetic avatar, she who takes us as close as legally possible to observe the phenomenon of “boys becoming men.” We’re directed to take in the deep, long curve of that back in Allogenes, 2003; to linger at the sight of the taut muscular twist of that torso in Lives of Performers, 2003; to stare at the shared physicality of those brothers in The Brothers (A.N. & M.N.), 2003. Taste the sweat, feel the pain, experience the solitude, go back and be seventeen again. Whew! It might be realism, but it borders on camp.

As the vogue for youngish subjects continues to rage in contemporary art, it’s interesting to note that teenage boys have been ubiquitous in Schorr’s work since the early days of her practice. Ranging from military youth to amateur athletes, for more than a decade they have shadowboxed their own signifying propensity to default to self-portraiture and their function as doppelgängers of the artist herself.

Schorr’s incessant interest in the baroque dimensions of the growing boy’s libidinal energy borders on predatory in its own self-contained way. Unabashedly, her relationship to her subjects is not sanitized. What’s more, she sets the viewer up, exposing furtive looks to full-scale scrutiny, shoving us in so close that our intimate look borders on inappropriate. It’s in the undertow of such moments, the distractions she delights in (please, let’s not call them classical), that the idea of taboo comes into play: We’re “caught looking” too. It’s that sense of transgression—like staring at someone’s deformities when you shouldn’t—that tweaks these pictures into polished play. Schorr’s brawny beauts might be jocks through and through, but she feminizes them all the same, and it looks like they never even knew what hit them.

Jan Avgikos