‘Polaroids’ by Attila Richard Lukacs and Michael Morris
Author: Aaron Krach
August 3, 2011
Workers? Check. Athletes? Check. Cute boys ready to sell Abercrombie & Fitch? Check. Bodybuilder beefcake? Check. This book is bursting with men—in every butch variation.
Pick a fantasy, find the page, it’s there.
Oh, but it’s “art.” Polaroids is a hefty tome of, yes, reprinted Polaroids used in the making of Lukacs’s paintings.
Lukacs is a gay artist born and living in Canada. He first gained attention in the 80s for dramatic figurative paintings of skinheads and athletes in famous scenes from art history. He has since expanded his subject matter to include fantasy scenes and abstractions.
Lukacs would take my confession that I found his work stimulating as a compliment. It can’t just be me. I dare you to flip through a few pages and tell me this book doesn’t cause a stir in the loins.
In a short essay , Lukacs explains his relationship to one model, he discovered and picked up at a Berlin cruising spot.
“It was a two-for-one deal,” he says.
Does it matter that Lukacs has sex with his models? Yes. Because that sexual realness is the key to this book’s genuine erotic power.
This story satisfies the reader’s fantasy that the men in these pictures are not just objects to be admired. They are sexually available – if only you or I were to meet them outside of this book. Which doesn’t mean this isn’t an art book, too.
Michael Morris, a fellow-Canadian artist and long-time friend of Lukacs, edited the book. He also curated an exhibition of the Polaroids that became the initial catalog for this book. This book is the catalog for that exhibition. The few installation shots of the exhibition reveal walls covered, with hundreds and hundreds of Polaroids in strict grids. Imagine Sol LeWitt meets Honcho magazine. The book translates the experience of seeing the exhibition clearly. Each page contains 12 actual-size Polaroids. Each page is exactly the same.
So they are definitely art. They’ve been in a museum. Does that matter? I’m not sure. Lukacs never intended them to be. He thought of them as tools, images to copy while making his paintings. Most are from a period when Lukacs lived in Berlin. There, we’re told, he studied the Old Masters up close. He emulated his idol Caravaggio by working from models. Lukacs based his work on real people in an effort to make his work more honest about sex and men.
Up to a point. Lukacs’s art reveals in only a sliver of gay life. He shows what it was like for him to live (and sleep and cruise and fuck) in Berlin before and after the Berlin Wall fell. Maybe this works best as a personal history book.
So why do I feel dirty with this book in my hands?
The longer I have lived with this book, a rising tide of liberal guilt has become harder to ignore. I’m a progressive, I hope, and I’m aware of how power unfolds in the world. I am sensitive to stereotypes, aware of their reality and fiction. Maybe that’s the issue. This book is a collection of stereotypes. Race, gender, class, sexual orientation…. They are all here. And they are all exploited in the name of art.
Maybe that’s the rub. As porn, it’s fine. As art, I want more.
In the center of Polaroids is an old fashion centerfold. Two pages of pictures of a man wearing red Monkey boots, silver knuckles for fighting, and nothing else. He’s tall and lean. His hair is short and sporty. His eyebrows are thick. Behind him hang two American flags. The title is “Kickboxing Skin, Banff, 1990.”
Really? A kickboxing skinhead in Banff, Canada, agreed to pose for a gay painter? Total fantasy. Then open the centerfold to four pages of 48 Polaroids of “Cameron, Banff, 1990.”
“Cameron” has a shaved head. He’s smaller and more muscular than “Kickboxer.” He’s covered in tattoos. Instead of pretending to exercise, this guy stands between mirrors checking himself out like a Nazi Narcissus. Yeah, a Nazi. Behind him hangs a red, black and white flag with a giant swastika in the center.
Notice the stool “Cameron” perches on. It’s dingy white and painted with a big pink heart. How about the shaved balls and trimmed pubes? This Nazi is a sweetheart.
But can a Nazi be a sweetheart? On what planet? I find the very suggestion offensive. And what’s the meaning of the Nazi hidden behind (inside?) the American flag-waving thug? Does Lukacs think a Nazi hides behind every All-American Boy?
Certainly Lukacs would be glad that I’m offended, or at the very least troubled by his trafficking in troubling stereotypes. You don’t dress cute white boys up in Nazi drag if you don’t want to offend a few people. But what does this book really accomplish? Does it reveal Lukacs to be an interesting artist? Does it show that he has good taste in models? Does it inspire new fantasies in viewers? Or does it inspire more of the same old fantasies we already know about?
by Attila Richard Lukacs and Michael Morris
Arsenal Pulp Press
Hardcover, 9781551522951, 176pp.