Friday, February 02, 2007

Queer eye for the migrant worker

From today's New York Blade:
For the past 20 years, gay artist John Sonsini has been painting portrait after portrait of Latino men. More recently, Sonsini has become fascinated with the mostly Mexican and Central American immigrants hoping to be hired for a day’s work as they wait on street corners near his Los Angeles studio.
Sure, Blade art reviewer (and "Date Bait" co-founder) Rafael Risenberg says that these paintings are "some of the most sensuous, and sensitive, portrayals of the common man I have ever seen."

Furthermore he argues that the work is actually a collaboration between painter and subject: "In the back of the canvas, artist and subjects alike sign their names, denoting the collaborative nature of the work," adding "As humble as these men appear, there is a dignity to their countenances."

As if that wasn't enough, the Chaim & Reade gallery - where the exhibit is being held - posts a statement
online in which we are assured that "the men here are not models, nor are they objectified."

Hm, I guess we should take their word for it?

I won't speak to the artistic merit of the work because I haven't seen the exhibit but there is something that rubs me the wrong way when it takes a gallery in the heart of upscale gay Manhattan to tell me that the images of migrant workers are not objectified.

Come to think of it, even after the exhibit is gone, local art lovers are in for a treat because they can actually see some of these "humble" and "dignified" "common" people in their midst! They just have to take the #7 train to the Woodside station at 6am in the morning and walk down Roosevelt Avenue observing the young men with back-packs on their shoulders scrambling for work. Not sure how "collaborative" the experience will be but they can certainly project their desires on these men. Then again, I'm sure the gallery will have some heating which beats the 20 degree temperatures prognosticated for next week. Better yet, if you confine yourself to the gallery, you won't have to worry your pretty little heads about these men's futures. Enjoy!


The Brown Sensorium said...

The commodification of Latina/o bodies has a long history in this country as does that of the black body. What is amazing to me in this case is that their use-value (bluntly, their ability to make others earn money even as they desperately search for work) is now aestheticized and we should therefore applaud the art establishment for “humanizing” them. This can only happen in a country where their humanity is questioned in the first place. If it’s a truly collaborative process, then it stands to reason that the profits should be split between the participants. After all, their name is on the canvas. Right?

Sherman Clarke said...

I happened on the Sonsini show at Cheim & Read, and found the portraits compelling. A family group was "hogging" the counter so I couldn't get to the catalog or artist's notebook. A couple days later, I read the Blade article and then googled Sonsini. This was one of the hits while googling and I really appreciate this take on Sonsini's work. I also find it intriguing that Sonsini was a scene painter for physique photographer Bob Mizer.

John K said...

Lo que dijo Lázaro!