Curated by Lindsay Hutchens, “BIG PART small whole,” starts off ACRE’s 2020 exhibition season with works by resident artists Marie Baldwin and Allan J. Masterson. Hutchens affectingly pairs the artists’ approaches to sensuality and texture to convey desire through varying scales and finishes. She cites how “human desire is often associated with romantic desire but there is also the thing of the platonic human need to be understood and to belong, becoming a part of something, becoming a whole.” The exhibition dreams up a different version of late-1900s mass cultural imagery, where its pastel satin vision reconsiders the gendered images once offered to us.
Masterson’s “Pastel Collection,” a series of small, soft-colored, closed micro playsets, greet me as I enter the space. Made in a traditional process with epoxy clays and enamels, they sit atop their pedestals. I’m unsure if they’re relics of the past or pastel objects of the future. Next to each of these toys is a foam poster where their innards are advertised by Dandy Blueblood. Blueblood, a decadent gender-fluid figure, is portrayed by Masterson clad in a ruffled waistcoat, powdered make-up, a trimmed beard and a long red wig.
In the gallery’s front left corner, “Studio Apartment Bathroom”’s pear-shaped form reads as both modish perfume bottle and bulb douche. A poster advertises that inside lies a glorious fountain which shoots out from a toilet in the center. Upon its stream sits a small clock in homage to pop-minimalist artist Félix González-Torres’ “Untitled (Perfect Lovers).” González-Torres’ 1987-1990 sculptural series featured pairs of ticking clocks whose ticks were like heartbeats, representing the life of both the artist and his partner, Ross Laycock. While one clock would continue ticking, Laycock’s clock eventually slowed and ended to represent his passing from AIDS.
Masterson’s works are littered with these miniature cultural artifacts. When I asked about the clock, he says that Felix’s clocks are “everywhere.” He discusses the significance of this and representation of Blueblood:
“Coming of age right after the AIDS epidemic, our whole history was erased, I had no representation…[This work is] me projecting myself into a vacuum, into a space that doesn’t exist, to expand it, not only for myself but hopefully for other people. I’ve become the representation I never had, made the toys I never had.”
Baldwin’s works expand into this vacuum in a literal sense. At eight feet tall, “Fantasia II (Live the Dream),” an upright fabric work, towers over all. Divided into four panels, its sensuous blue satins and cadmium red corduroys beckon me. A scene slowly emerges from its opulent abstract textures. Over time, a tan corduroy oval becomes a ring on a hand, the red corduroy someone’s bottom, the varied blue satins now the skins of figures. Initial disorientation gives way to an image of two figures in shared intimacy. As I inhabit the scene further, I realize that no gender can be assigned to either figure. We are allowed to find ourselves in each embrace.
In “Fantasia II” Baldwin draws from images of Poconos advertisements, examining how “the community of resorts advertised, promised and commodified intimacy.” She continues, “As the resorts disappeared in the nineties, the kind of love that was hawked seemed more and more antiquated. I personally feel that this territory is ripe to revisit, explore, and hopefully my work reimagines this moment in time to be accessible for new kinds of bodies, love and pleasure.”
Through expansion and cropping, Baldwin abstracts and ultimately re-orients the mass cultural images of heterosexual romance toward something more flexible, more inclusive.
As the room’s divider, “Fantasia” extends an invitation to belong. Throughout the exhibition, Masterson’s small, closed forms lead to Baldwin’s larger works, where beyond “Fantasia” a back room is revealed. In its back chambers “The sewers,” Masterson’s pastel purple and orange anatomically correct heart lays open to us. Its ventricles and atriums reveal artifacts such as an unused condom, bodice and Game Boy, all excavated in a bedroom. These lay amidst purple sewer water, the heart’s blood. The work’s metaphor criticizes the stigma and violence of the queer body during the AIDS crisis, though the heart’s representation refuses erasure. Though exposed, it remains whole.
“BIG PART small whole” asks us to walk behind the divider. In this hidden space, privy to its construction, we are both held by its promise of privacy and made vulnerable by its invitation to intimacy. Its works provoke pleasure and sentiment in its viewers, creating space for shared moments which surpass romantic desire and gendered values, leading us toward a more nuanced and softer type of belonging. (Amanda Roach)
“BIG PART small whole” is on display at ACRE Projects, 1345 West 19th, through February 29.