In describing this series of appropriated nudes, Thomas Ruff may find his critics reduced to blushing innuendo: the Davies Street Gagosian is housing his stills from hardcore movies - more paranormal than pornographic in their hazy views of their subject matter – until April 21st, offering the viewer a Roman-style orgy in varying degrees of clarity.
There is a Richteresque aspect to their soft, Gaussian blur, as though viewed through a vaseline-coated lens; Ruff's computerised edit makes penetration seem oddly dreamy, the plastic and pneumatic rendered cheesecakey and flip. Some images – ones where the frame avoids full-blown coitus, or in which the subjects aren't dropping their g-strings – feel almost Elvgren-lite, as if painted for the nose of a World War Two bomber; the stocking-top shorthand of the female pinup is a kissing cousin of 'real' pornography, just as pornography is the French-kissing cousin of three-dimensional sex. The figures in these photographs feel distant from the viewer - as removed and otherworldly as the surface of Mars in Ruff's sister show at the Gagosian’s Brittania Street location. In hardcore pornography, the grittiest supposed horrors of the naked human body are exposed in hyperreal and unpixelated detail, but such authenticity is missing here, or else seen through a kind of vague electro-whitewash. Blue movie titles are littered with coarsely categorical titles. Ruff's works, conversely, are universally labelled Nudes as a nod to the Renaissance canon, less ‘Vivid Video’ than ‘Caravaggio.’
Thomas Ruff, nudes sd17, 2011, Unique C-Print, 104 3/4 x 73 1/4 inches, 266 x 186 cm; Courtesy of the Artist and Gagosian Gallery.
Curiously, cameras haven’t been used in the production of the artist's series (the shots are culled, as thumbnails, from the seamier corners of the internet, and then blown up to supersized proportions), putting Ruff's output in the weird position of being less intrinsically 'artisan' than its hardcore source material, at least in the most straightforward sense. The presentation of dirty screenshots as the true successor to the artist's nude feels a somehow damning indictment, as though this world – this pornified utopia – is our sole legacy to history and culture. I’m reminded, for a moment, of the Chapman brothers' neo-primitive homages to the fast food chain MacDonalds, which dared to suggest that our own society's artifacts, as a droning capitalist hive, will be somehow hollow and emotionally inferior. Sex in the Now, as pornography tells it, is hollow and emotionally inferior, too; it is violent and limitless and infinitely pleasurable, but lacks the engagement of the real and the physical, observed, in the main, through the screen of a laptop, a distant partner for our cybersurfing onanism.
Thomas Ruff, ma.r.s. 01_III, 2011, C-Print, 100 3/8 x 72 7/8 inches, 255 x 185 cm; Courtesy of the Artist and Gagosian Gallery.
It’s difficult to gauge whether Ruff is being critical about our crass societal mores, or if he is simply coldly realistic, a cynic drowning in an excess of obscenity. These gaudy screenshots, with their soft, engorged pixels, appear more fantastic and unreal than ever -- a viewer who is willing to travel to Britannia Street immediately afterward might choose to compare them with Ruff's M.A.R.S series, and guess at whose subject is more Martian to them.
(Image on top: Thomas Ruff, nudes dr02, 2011, Unique chromogenic print, 104 3/4 x 73 1/4 inches (266 x 186 cm); Courtesy of the Artist and Gagosian Gallery.)