Los Angeles

View of “Flanagan’s Wake,” 2022. Foreground, from left: Amy O’Neill, Post Prom Dance Floor, 1999/2022; Michael Queenland, Black Balloon Group, 2018. Background, from left: Mike Kelley, Pansy Metal/Clovered Hoof, 1989/2022; Sheree Rose, Untitled (Bob Flanagan Reading), date unknown, printed photograph; Robert Gober, Heart in a Box, 2014–15; Nayland Blake, Pink Posture, 2019; Jack Goldstein, Portfolio of Performance, 1976–85/2001.

View of “Flanagan’s Wake,” 2022. Foreground, from left: Amy O’Neill, Post Prom Dance Floor, 1999/2022; Michael Queenland, Black Balloon Group, 2018. Background, from left: Mike Kelley, Pansy Metal/Clovered Hoof, 1989/2022; Sheree Rose, Untitled (Bob Flanagan Reading), date unknown, printed photograph; Robert Gober, Heart in a Box, 2014–15; Nayland Blake, Pink Posture, 2019; Jack Goldstein, Portfolio of Performance, 1976–85/2001.

“Flanagan’s Wake”

“Flanagan’s Wake” was like entering the aftermath of an unbridled party: A debauched spirit lingered dimly over this group exhibition organized in honor of writer and performance artist Bob Flanagan (1952–1996). Curated by Sabrina Tarasoff, the show was conceived as an ex post facto conversation with the late artist, whose transgressive oeuvre pursued pain, ecstasy, and restraint.

Flanagan faced every day as though it were his last. Born with cystic fibrosis, he was told by doctors that he would not live long; yet he miraculously endured the disease for forty-three years. Raised in Glendora, California, he endured multiple near-death experiences and constant medical interventions, ordeals that set him apart from his peers in baby boomer suburbia. Flanagan discovered his masochistic sexuality early on and began mitigating his physical pain with erotic pain, laying the groundwork for his future writings and performances. As a young adult he penned poetry, which eventually led him to Los Angeles and to Beyond Baroque, an experimental literary hub where he met and befriended writers Dennis Cooper and Jack Skelley, poet Amy Gerstler, and John Doe and Exene Cervenka of the punk band X. It was through this community that Flanagan also met Sheree Rose, who became his creative collaborator, life partner, and dedicated dominatrix. Their perfect dominant/submissive union propelled Flanagan to chronicle his relationships to love and mortality, and his therapeutic bond with sadomasochism. Beyond the algolagnic spectacle of, say, nailing his penis to wood for his 1989 performance Nailed, his work spoke broadly to issues around guilt and the vicissitudes of inhabiting a sick body with candor and brilliantly dark comicality.

Fitting, then, was Mike Kelley’s contribution to the show: Pansy Metal/Clovered Hoof, 1989/2022, a collection of color serigraphs on silk banners that mock homespun Catholic-school art. Reverently hung across the gallery’s back wall were images featuring a crowned phallus, the biblically loaded number 13, and a long-toothed demonic figure. Though Flanagan never considered his family overtly religious, he attended catechism until junior high, leading him to ponder guilt and the saintliness of suffering with childlike and fetishistic wonder.

Amy O’Neill’s installation Post Prom Dance Floor, 1999/2022, was set at the center of the gallery and featured a raised platform, dismally lit and littered with confetti and streamers: a meditation on the deflation of a classic high-school ritual. Poking out from beneath the stage were a pair of crushed, dirty white loafers, as if the riser had fallen from the sky to kill a wicked presence. This ambiguous nod to The Wizard of Oz was carried over in Julie Becker’s video Suburban Legend, 1999, in which Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon plays as the alternate soundtrack to the beloved 1939 MGM musical. Via headphones, one could sit and marvel at the strange alignments between image and sound, as a stoned teenager might while sequestered in their parents’ den. Two photographs by Becker, Interior Corner #5 and Interior Corner #6, both 1993, further accentuated this feeling of domestic insularity by presenting tightly cropped corners of homes, haunted and aged by retro carpeting and wallpaper.

Scattered throughout the space was Michael Queenland’s Black Balloon Group, 2018, a suite of large round sculptures, some of which featured openings that revealed hollow insides. Strewn along the floor like leftover party decor, these objects created obtrusive barriers, fashioning a dominant/submissive dynamic between artist and viewer (the works also evoked the oversize ball gags that Flanagan often used in performances and sexual pursuits). Robert Gober’s sculpture Heart in a Box, 2014–15, spoke to Flanagan’s “The heart is a pump,” a phrase that shows up in a number of the artist’s poems. The refrain underlines the kind of heart—both figurative and literal—required to celebrate life and all of its ills and pleasures. Displayed on a plinth and nestled inside a cardboard container was the titular organ, molded from delicate glass and aluminum: a flawless address to Flanagan, who packaged various forms of pain to deliver a distinctive legacy.