The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
On ViewEquity Gallery
October 9 – November 2, 2019
The title of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a group show currently on view at Equity Gallery, immediately recalls the 1940 novel of the same name by Carson McCullers. McCullers’s work evokes a sense of alienation—both from society and, crucially, from oneself. However, to many she also represents an enthusiastic, if not necessarily fully consummated, embrace of her own desires. The works in Equity’s show are equally ambiguous. Curators Eric Sutphin and Christopher Stout explore the legacy of queer abstraction, asking how works that are not overtly political may nevertheless participate in the larger dialogue surrounding queer culture. With six artists in the show, the art varies widely, but the curatorial vision that brings these works together creates a productive conversation between them.
Justin Cloud’s piece at the front of the gallery, Hum.Ding (2019) is a playful revisiting of Meret Oppenheim’s Le Déjeuner en fourrure (Lunch in Fur) (1936). Faux fur fills an inner tube clamped by four pink and yellow circlets. Thin tubing weaves around the inner edge before trailing to the ground in a nod to Eva Hesse’s particularly embodied approach to abstraction. Altar for Ixion (2019) is an omni-wheel cast in wax with lavender, rosemary, and rose petals ready to release scent when set on fire. An omni-wheel is a tire that enables a machine to roll in any direction, and yet the mechanical quality of Ixion belies the warmth and therapeutic potential its materials suggest. Both Hum.Ding and Ixion speak to Cloud’s background in manufacturing and mechanics but their eclectic construction also humorously destabilizes the machismo associated with those cultures.
Jason Rondinelli’s sculptural works Jitters Beneath the Covers and Untitled (both 2019) can only be fully appreciated in person, as a concrete sense of scale is crucial: they are barely knee high. Constructed from wood and tiles propped against one another, these works present two faces to the observer. From one side, the wood is partly burnt, while the other surface is tiled. Everything here is liminal and precarious, as Rondinelli’s pieces of cedar seem ready to fall at a touch. The flakes of ash on the floor invoke an impulse to remembrance, while the tiles suggest everything from the history of Roman baths to the libidinal use of steam rooms in queer culture. Even without such associations, these unsteady works cultivate the viewer’s concern.
The teetering objects of Wade Schaming likewise invite careful engagement. Tupperware, plastic crates, and other remnants of the plastic world—all designed in service of our desire to consume—coalesce in oddly cheerful cairns. Nothing fixes one piece to the next, but they nonetheless stand firm. Even in a crowded gallery they do not fall. Hermes Payrhuber’s ovoid, nearly phallic, objects cloaked in found fabric and used socks are ironically placed on pedestals. One might be inclined to inquire about these “caps” and what they hide, but confessional explanations are not the game here. The Austrian artist is devilish and evasive: he only winks when asked about the use of these socks.
Paul Michael Graves contributes two oil paintings to the exhibition, beautiful pictures and surprisingly quiet despite the plethora of repeating signs and indeterminate patterns that cover their surfaces. The handling of paint in Fig. XIII (2019) creates a chalkboard effect that evokes graffiti and the 1980s pop art scene so important to the history of queer activism. There are also a dozen small paintings by Julie Torres scattered about the gallery, hung on walls but also propped along the border between floor and wall, a gesture that dramatizes the liminal quality shared by so many of the works on view here. Torres draws, paints, pours, splatters, and shapes acrylic on panels. There is a sense of fun in both her work and her art-making process—a useful reminder, perhaps, that the nature of desire need not always be taken quite so seriously.
A straightforward formal reading of the works on view at Equity Gallery might not immediately reveal their engagement of queer culture. However, we must realize that this stems partly from the expectation that queer art provide overt figuration and a direct representation of queer experience. In the 1980s, this was crucial, a fact recognized by the artists of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and Gran Fury—their work Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do is exemplary here. The explicit representation of queer sexuality necessarily became synonymous with its politics, but this also made less direct expressions of queer identity harder to see. Queer abstraction, as it is framed here, is not a desexualization nor a rejection of the body and its politics. The artists in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter acknowledge that the stain of life is sometimes best celebrated and shared in more intimate ways. In the right hands, implication can be just as powerful as overt representation.