New York

Piotr Uklański, Pornalikes (detail), 2002–, one of 103 ink-jet prints on Sintra, overall 8' 1“ x 28' 2 3/8”.

Piotr Uklański, Pornalikes (detail), 2002–, one of 103 ink-jet prints on Sintra, overall 8' 1“ x 28' 2 3/8”.

Piotr Uklański

Piotr Uklański, Pornalikes (detail), 2002–, one of 103 ink-jet prints on Sintra, overall 8' 1“ x 28' 2 3/8”.

Over the past decade, Piotr Uklański has amassed a vast archive of photographs of porn actors who strongly resemble famous contemporary personalities. These Pornalikes, 2002–, are readymades—taken from lowbrow “men’s magazines” such as Loaded and Hustler, and, more recently, websites and blogs. For his solo exhibition at Karma, Uklański assembled a colorful and densely hung pantheon from his vast archive of these images before the unblinking gaze of an enormous stuffed eyeball, whose trailing blood vessels and mucous membranes, crafted from hand-dyed fabrics, recall the ghost of 1970s feminist critique–cum–craft art.

Uklański’s exhibition revived a history of dialogue around the cinematic gaze, celebrity, commodification, sexual identity, and exploitation summed up in Laura Mulvey’s famous 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in which she announces her intention to appropriate psychoanalysis as a political weapon, to analyze pleasure as a way of destroying it. The pleasure in critique has developed quite a following, and Uklański’s exhibition accomplished the complex feat of suspending the viewer between the didactic gratifications of critical discourse and the ostensibly more straightforward pleasures of the visual image.

Bill Clinton’s pornalike is all buff in a thong; a reflective sheen of light is right over his heart. And Bill’s all about heart. Only after a second or third look do we notice the bikini top—Clinton’s pornalike is a muscled woman. Stephen Greenblatt has said of Holbein’s The Ambassadors, 1533, that the portrait threatens to undermine “the very concept of locatable reality upon which we conventionally rely in our mappings of the world, to subordinate the sign systems we so confidently use to a larger doubt.” It is not only Bill’s swimwear that provides the anamorphic moment of gender disorientation but the misidentification inherent in celebrity itself, which collapses the distance needed for judgment.

A slug-like tongue slithers out of the Eddie Murphy pornalike’s mouth on its way to a mustache, which could be confused with a ’70s Cruising mustache, possibly alluding to the speculations about Murphy’s sexuality that have dogged him for much of his career. He’s apparently violating—though we don’t know for sure—a woman. We see only white legs; they are probably a woman’s legs, but she needs to shave. Tellingly, the actual action is obscured by a large black ball, kind of like the eye in the show, or maybe the Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, or a negated version of a John Baldessari primary-color “face-negation” ball. The ball of obscurity or devious black-magical power denies us the visual pleasure of ascertaining whether the Murphy figure is vaginally or anally penetrating her/him. Uklański’s project is rife with the confusions and anamorphic displacements that Lacan has called the “gaze imagined by me in the field of the other,” an other who looks, from a certain angle, like a former president.

David Rimanelli