Los Angeles

Dean Sameshima

Peres Projects

Fagdom’s Betsy Ross, Gilbert Baker, a “self-described ‘flaming queen’ by age three,” designed the rainbow flag in 1978, but due to technical problems (an initial eight-color design could not be commercially fabricated because hot pink was at that time unavailable for mass production) it wasn’t unfurled until a year later, in honor of Harvey Milk and in peaceful protest of the light sentencing of his assassin, Twinkie-eater Dan White. I usually retch whenever I see a rainbow anything, but Dean Sameshima’s use of rainbow pride here triggered glee: Tearing at the semes of Baker’s handmade prototype, Sameshima allows the sign of craft to remain only in the rainbow tinting of his images scanned from underground 1950s and ’60s physical-culture-turned-sugary-porn chapbooks like Butch that, picturing “young men at play” as nude or pouch-clad cowboys, gymnasts, wrestlers, footballers, and artists, sexed the postal system.

Sameshima’s usually monochromatic tinting isn’t capricious: His sources’ simple color separation and newspaper-like stock kept most of the “adults only” material affordable to both budget queens and horny, questioning teens. In the bluetoned diptych YMAP (Art), 2005, a wellhung and well-leied brunet shows off both his front and rear assets, relaxing on a ready bed while a second figure uses a makeshift Warhol-meets-Kienholz “camera” (made, in part, of a “Toymato Soup” can and jerry-built tin flash) to “take” pictures. This device could only shoot phantasmatically, while the mostly anonymous photographers were left striving to realize with actual cameras and willing beefcake equivalents in the world. Sameshima asks if it is at all possible in an age of anything goes to risk something similarly eccentric and intense for the sake of desire.

With this exuberant boyfest, Sameshima acknowledges that, ever since Mike Kelley put two stuffed animals on a dinky afghan with a boom box droning theory in his 1991 “Dialogue” series, theory has often looked down-home and craft has become a sign of self-consciousness. By unfurling rainbows as sheer signification of the personal (re: craft) and by Viagravating the often too-latent sexual energy of rephotography, Sameshima skirts the potential impasse of theory to struggle with the personal. The young men at play become a study not in nostalgia (how could they, when from Abercrombie & Fitch to Friday Night Lights [2004] “jock” is the dominant aesthetic of all masculinity?) but rather in mourning for an identity now (?) kaput.

In Boys In My Bedroom, 1995–, the man-crazy second part of the show, Sameshima inverted (and perverted?) his negotiation of gay history by sorting out his private desires from the world’s vast bombardment of cute “types.” His dream is slim-hipped, Euro, Hedi Slimane-for-Diorish, but obsession extends it messily to include Luke Wilson, certain surfers, teens with baby fat, a young Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and supermodel Ivan de Pineda, black-and-white photocopies of whom Sameshima has taped into delicate wallpaper-like “screens.” This fierce archiving echoes, fractures, and diverges from the rainbow rhapsody. Relentless, its cruising is endless, all-consuming, and beyond normative relationality.

The apotheosis occurs with Boys In My Bedroom, #2, 2005, a dizzying, two-hour compilation of every glimpse of televised hotness that’s caught Sameshima’s eye, edited down to the guys alone. No one and nothing else matters, not Oprah, not narrative, perhaps not even “Dean.” From spicy arrestees on COPS to Tom Cruise, the low-tech binge of singled-out talking heads and show-offs overwhelms, producing simultaneous exhilaration and unease. Love isn’t the only drug anyone should be thinking of while ogling this sublime. Nearby, Self Portrait, 2005, comprised of nine Polaroid stills grabbed from Fassbinder’s Fox and His Friends (1975), ends with ends with a bottle of Valium and a dead Fox.

Bruce Hainley