On my way here on West 21st Street
I saw two finches or are those sparrows
one feeding the other seeds
neck perked up as if he were asking a question
or receiving a kiss, then they both flew away
and on the wall was that school mural
We dream of
[a hole in the gray brick]
and in my mind, still fresh
was that show of queer art
Sincerityisnotenough & style is everything, voguing
and I felt summer
I knew a little grace or could kind of guess
how it would feel: I have this scarf my friend gave me.
It’s like the word effulgent. One winter I donned it, a bright garland around my neck, when I was back in my hometown, where I was never really out. Wearing that scarf, I felt really queer—but quietly, as though I knew this joke and everyone else around me knew it too, but only I could laugh. That’s what came to my mind when I was walking through Andrew Edlin Gallery. Arms akimbo, I think: this show is full of attitude.
The works of 107 artists—or is it 108—gathered by the artist Scott Hug. Most of them are paintings and most of them are hanging, salon-style, in a blue room in the back of the gallery. But before you enter that space you walk through the front, which appears like your regular Chelsea summer show; that is, there are paintings occupying a minimal white cube. On the window, there is a neon orange poster by Eve Fowler quoting “Objects” from Gertrude Stein’s poem “Tender Buttons”: the difference is spreading.
“A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.”
“Objects” can be hard to read because it opens up, it spreads, and each word feels queer in its various combinations with other words: one thing is not just one thing, but many things. A carafe, as described by Stein, is similar to how Picasso would paint it: it melts, it becomes diluted in its surroundings, it flies away, it is hard to pin down. Or, maybe, the poem is more like Matisse’s The Red Studio: a room full of character-objects floating yet grounded in a field of a “single hurt color.” Stein is “drawing” with words, calling out objects; you can feel her tracing with her eyes the contents of her desk, and writing. The objects shift in form and meaning through her description, always, it feels, becoming some other things even when they’ve been named. How the words occupy your mind and leave or don’t leave traces of themselves.
“B-Out” is like that poem. Hundreds of paintings, photographs, sculptures, and in-betweens (“All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling”) crowd your field of vision. Fowler’s other posters from her series “A Spectacle and Nothing Strange” populate the show with Stein’s words, joining the voices of other raucous queers. The show’s pace is slow at first, then you march through this series of doorways, a hallway installation by the collective Fantastic Nobodies, and the pace picks up—or the difference spreads. Queerness spreads. With each door you pass, the party gets a little louder.
It’s a trip, and the corridors echo with resilient voices. Is this what being out feels like? Or being out in New York?
Opening night had been overwhelming. The heat outside pushed me past the door into the gallery before six o’clock. I rushed through the doorways. Why are there so many doorways? And soon the place was packed. A hundred voices on the walls and a hundred more joining, sweaty bodies pressing close together, huddling around art. I looked at the gallery list, tried to make sense of who made which work.
The room: postage wallpaper, queer feminist history lesson by Sheila Pepe and Carrie Moyer.
The room (courtesy of Scott Hug): walls covered in black-and-white printouts of celebrities, like mug shots, the captions vaguely referring to a mishap each celebrity was involved in.
The room: “YOU THINK I HAVE A MOOD AND ANXIETY DISORDER?!”
cries/bellows/accuses/whimpers the performer Jack Ferver in a hysterical video by John Fireman. Each time he states the question it is inflected differently, his body swaying to the lilt of his voice; each time he is someone else.
The room: crisscrossing prism bands, painted by Maya Hayuk, drip on walls.
NOW: the room of a single hurt color—blue—with its black-and-white checkered floor. It’s like that moment you walk into a party and you realize you’re not the only queer person anymore—or you move to New York and you realize everyone is also a queer artist.
Oh look, David Wojnarowicz dreaming of Peter Hujar dreaming, three times, a painting that recalls a history of Lower East Side artists putting on behemoth group shows in someone else’s basement, in the 80s. Or, like Wojnarowicz, in the crumbling piers, for a night. And everyone was invited.
Martin Wong’s grayish peach painting of a reclining nude, his touch always suggesting to me a brick building or concrete, even when it’s flesh.
Lee Lozano: “Cocks! Cunts! Tits! Balls!”
Old, long-gone queers shouting from the gallery walls among (equally) noisy, younger, living queers.
Semi-abstract paintings by Timothy Hull and Joshua Abelow point to early modernist queers, like Demuth and Hartley: faces in the signs, hidden (gay) desire.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photographic portrait contains a cackling grace.
To see each work—separated from the continuum of each artist’s oeuvre but joined, elbow to elbow with generations of other art—makes you consider relationships and histories.
It’s lonely. It’s not lonely.
An arrangement: I like being different, you say, and so does everyone else in the blue room.
(All Images: B-Out, Installation views; Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery)