Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Hustlers @ David Zwirner

Fuck yeah, I am gonna ignore the two panels of looping video of the beginning and ending credits of vintage black and white porns, that reveal static and white text against a black backdrops and just focus on the awesomeness of the one story high projection loop of the extended version of diCorcia’s hustler series. This body of work should be understood as the culmination of a set-up style of photographs that questioned the very authenticity of photography. diCorcia’s set-up work starts in the early 80’s at almost the same time Cindy Sherman was making her more renowned film stills and decades before Crewdson started his much more commercially successful staged tableaus. By the early 90’s, when Hustlers was being made, diCorcia was addled with a rather debilitating intravenous drug habit. He had survived his brother’s death at the height of the AIDS crisis, when it was still the gay cancer and US Senators were calling the epidemic the rightful vengeance of God upon gays and drug users. diCorcia made Hustlers using the last NEA grant to an individual after Mapplethorpe’s mildly controversial museum show and Serrano’s lack of artistic ability caused the NEA to stop giving grants to artists (which, in all fairness, it is not completely unreasonable, for Congressmen from conservative parts of the country to object to tax money being spent on work that it’s safe to say most of their constituents would have a hard time recognizing as art). But as the last individual grant from the NEA and in a move of conceptual genius, diCorcia used his grant money to hire as his models male hustlers in Los Angeles, a group very much on the front lines of the aids epidemic in the early 90’s. The pictures are conceptually tight with their cinematic lighting and occasionally surreal narrative, creating work that directly addresses what a believable fiction photographs can be.  While the 90’s would evolve into a generation of photographers wallowing in the fiction of the imagination, diCorcia made work that was about more than just academic art issue. In a very direct way, he was able to help people who were in need, people who were, up until that time, being ignored by their government, by paying them to sit in front of a camera if only for an hour or so and take time off from their grueling profession. Fuckin’ rad.

Even if you remove the back story, the pictures paint a punishing picture of Los Angeles. diCorcia portrays the Los Angeles of Bukowski novels, the Los Angeles where men in the pictures flock for greater dreams, that in the glint of late day sun seem attainable, only to end up in a stranger’s car in a nameless parking lot as the sun sets on the day and on any hope. It’s utterly brilliant work, and if you, like me, spent time shitting on Chelsea, or Zwirner for being the Wal-Mart of galleries, I would like to apologize. In this show, they put up an outstanding expanded version of one of the most important bodies work in the history of photography, and it isn’t in a museum. It’s free in a gallery. Oh, and like diCorcia’s polaroid show, there are a lot of extra shots from hustlers that are pretty amazing and certainly could have been in the original MOMA book. The pictures you haven’t seen are on the fringes of the original body of work the pictures are a little bit more surreal or a little bit more sexual than the work you’re familiar with. Occasionally. a woman even works into the series. If you aren’t jazzed on this, you should immediately start suspecting that you aren’t very intelligent or interested in photography or just have bad taste and are a subpar human.

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