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Times Square Arts Center will mark the opening of the Thom Simmonds Gallery (300 W. 43rd St., 347-234-0468) with DO NOT BE AFRAID - Art and Male Sexuality 1977-2010, running Nov. 18-Dec. 30, 2010. This group exhibition features work by Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Greg Gorman, Thom Simmonds, and Karim Zandieh. There will also be new works by Cyril Georget, Argilano, and Kaola Oty.
The show features works by ANDY WARHOL (SEX PARTS); ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE (X PORTFOLIO); GREG GORMAN (images from Just Between Us); and photo and mixed media collaborations between THOM SIMMONDS and KARIM ZANDIEH. New work features artists from around the world: CYRIL GEORGET (Hungary); ARGILANO (England); KAOLA OTY (Romania); and ERIK HILS (France).
From Thom Simmonds:
“I began collecting photography, which I believed was a hugely underappreciated art, in 1988. Robert Mapplethorpe’s work galvanized me: it was impeccably executed, provocative, brilliant and fearless.
When the inclusion of Mapplethorpe’s X PORTFOLIO at the Corcoran Gallery show in 1989 created the furor that led to the re-examination of the NEA, he became my hero. I view those photographs as historical: they were taken in 1977-78 and several depict what – by 1989 – became known as “unsafe sex”. The fearlessness that characterized Robert’s work was obscured, if not obliterated, by AIDS. Realistic and graphic male sexuality became taboo in the mainstream: people WERE afraid. The unabashed sexual freedom Robert’s lens captured became synonymous with death. Robert’s exuberant realism and celebration of male sexuality was replaced with male physical – and largely non-sexual – perfection in the mainstream. For many people, their first and only encounter with explicit gay sexuality was via Mapplethorpe. That needs to change. I am certain Robert never wanted his work to be viewed as a either a remnant of the-freedom-all-gay-men-dream-of or the only artist whose in-your-face sexuality was worthy of being in a museum or anyone’s living room.
What shocks me about Andy Warhol’s SEX PARTS is that he was ashamed of them! Arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century, Warhol – compared to Mapplethorpe – flirted with gay sexuality. It is difficult for me to imagine or believe that Andy was afraid of anything in spite of all that has been written or said about him to support that hypothesis. When I first saw the SEX PARTS at an auction in 2007, I was stunned that I never saw or heard about them before. Warhol’s unparalleled ability to create art for mass consumption and blur the line between what was banal and provocative could have advanced gay art even more than it had. If only he had not been afraid.
In 1993 I collaborated with Karim Zandieh on a series of photographs because I was angry. AIDS had frightened and decimated the gay community and was killing some of my favorite people. Depictions of graphic male sexuality were politically incorrect – even passé’. Fueled by AIDS, I felt the world was saying “See what happens when you do things like that”. Although people were still titillated and attracted to the imagery, you would no longer see it in an art gallery or museum. You could find it at “adult establishments”. Art becoming pornography: restricted, underground, sometimes illegal. I watched the New York City I adored and its vibrant inhabitants “change”. Freedom and pride were being suppressed by fear and censorship. I wanted to chronicle my observations that homophobia was thriving and our sexual freedom was being seriously challenged. Karim Zandieh (and a very unusual piece of driftwood that I found on Fire Island) helped me find my voice. Even people who were “used to me” and my anti-censorship mindset felt I went “too far”. What a compliment!
January 2010: The whole world is afraid. I am afraid to be afraid because I believe fear = paralysis. There is too much “work” to do. For me that means finding the light and energy that inspired Andy, Robert and every creative, fearless endeavor. I believe that “light” is often concealed in the darkest places so I started looking for evidence and proof of its existence in (for me) unfamiliar territory. Countless artists and creative people visit or inhabit the TIMES SQUARE ARTS CENTER where my gallery is opening. And everyone knows someone who is creative and whose work is accessible in the next studio or across the Atlantic via the internet.
The artists who created the new work for this show – CYRIL GEORGET, ARGILANO, KAOLA OTY – each has his/her own story to tell about fear, repression and censorship. Perhaps they use pseudonyms because they are afraid they will be exposed, arrested or censored and consequently unable to exhibit any of their work because of its graphic content. They have generously shared their work and allowed my advice - DO NOT BE AFRAID – to inspire them.
CYRIL GEORGET’S paintings are vibrant and sexually charged. He has a unique ability to imbue his subject matter – no matter how explicit it is - with a sense of innocence, humor and ecstasy that eliminates fear from the eye of the beholder.
ARGILANO’S drawings and paintings are strong, sensuous and sanguine. His style shifts from contemporary to classical seamlessly and with authority.
KAOLA OTY’S drawings are abstract and complex. Her work enables the viewer to observe and feel the myriad physical sensations and mental processes her subjects are experiencing. Here again, the artist is able to shift styles from realistic to abstract with the same impact.
ERIK HILS drawings and paintings are soft, tactile and dreamy. Erik’s work takes the viewer into his world of beautiful, languid sexuality and leaves us always wanting more.
This show is dedicated to my aunt, Dawn Dilks, who taught me many things; most importantly, DO NOT BE AFRAID.”
October 30, 2010
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