Parachute: Contemporary Art Magazine 7/1/1998
Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York, October 25 - December 6
Tongue very much in cheek, Calgary-born, now New York-based, painter Attila Richard Lukacs offered recent work, continuing his powerfully painted, affecting odyssey of gay life. The thirty-five-year-old Lukacs, who came to New York in 1996 after spending ten years in Berlin, gained notoriety early on in his career for his erotically uncompromising portrayal of rough boys. His subjects' working class rage is treated with a sympathy that is homoerotically inclined, and so it is hard to tell whether his bare-chested young men constitute a political statement or an extended meditation on skinhead allure.
Additionally, the ghost of the German past inevitably accompanies Lukacs' art, which forthrightly plays with images that, for many people, have associations with the neo-Nazi movement in Germany. It is a difficult thing to dehistoricize such imagery, and while Lukacs is at pains to downplay the flirtation with the far right and emphasizes his paintings' erotic flair, it seems unavoidable that his work would be seen by some as ethically questionable.
Even though he claims to have thought it up while drunk, Lukacs appears to be addressing such criticism in the title of his show, "It's Not About Schinkel, It's About Schinken." Schinkel is the name of the influential, classically inspired nineteenth-century German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and schinken is the German word for ham. It's not an overinterpretation to see in the pun Lukacs' refusal to associate himself with any grand Aryan scheme, as well as an insistence on the fleshy focus of his art.
Indeed, for Lukacs, flesh is the goal. His homosexuality is expressed through the powerful delineation of the male form, his affection for the male body profoundly evident in this show, which includes exquisitely finished paintings of young men with shaved heads and bare, muscular torsos; the striking Labours in Natural History (1997), an extraordinarily detailed, life-size wax sculpture of a bionic skinhead; and the inspired conceptual sculpture Casting for a Lost Track (1997), which, celebrating maleness in the abstract, comprises forty-eight pairs of Dr. Martens boots, placed in a packing crate with a transparent acrylic cover.
Above all else, Lukacs convinces by virtue of his technique, which is brilliantly confident in its meditation on male physicality. This was an extremely male show - no female figures existed in the many paintings and sculptures exhibited. For example, the large painting entitled The Fresh Air Front (1997) includes nine young men, standing and sitting against a heavily graffittied wall; their slightly menacing air is accentuated by Lukacs' closely detailed portrayal of their bodies, their unclothed torsos in particular.
In conversation, Lukacs emphasizes that he is just a painter, and that any interpretation of a group such as these nine men is actually indicative of the viewer's intent. He turns the viewer into a voyeur - we are meant to consider his forms as sexually charged. However, even as we recognize the artist's purpose as frankly erotic, something exists in these paintings that goes beyond the representation of young men in tight jeans and underwear. A curious gravitas hangs over the painting; this ambience of seriousness, inexorably linked to sexual expression, occurred throughout the show.
It may be that Lukacs is playing a confidence game. It would be easy to read these paintings as depictions of actual events in his life, and such a view would continue to mythologize an artist whose bad boy reputation tends to precede him. Yet one had the sense in this show that Lukacs is not aggrandizing his sexual preference so much as he is attempting a momentary utopia, which, while eroticized, also suggests a sharp awareness of mortality and idealized beauty.
Love in Contemplation (1997) is the most openly autobiographical of Lukacs' paintings, for it incorporates his self-portrait. The painter sits on a bed on the right side of the painting, while the object of his gaze, a young man who is naked except for an expanse of white cloth covering his loins, reclines away from him. Lukacs extends his right arm across his knee, so that his hand just touches his lover's chest.
While the two men's legs are intertwined, there is no suggestion of sex. Instead, Lukacs looks resolutely and with complete solemnity at the object of his affection, who, his eyes closed, appears to be resting or sleeping. The atmosphere is further intensified by the red drapes, parted in the middle of the painting and partially covering Lukacs' own nude body; written underneath the image are four phrases: "so lovely," "so strong," "so handsome," "so long."
Lukacs' contemplation possesses religious significance, and here, if but for a moment, his depiction of the male body shifts from overt sexualization to exaltation. His gaze possesses unusual solemnity. There is also more than a slight intimation of mortality in the painting; the posture and the closed eyes of the young man might well be seen as representing someone who has died. Love and death are great themes in art; however, in light of the continuing AIDS epidemic and Lukacs' homosexuality, Love in Contemplation takes on particular poignancy. The painting presents a strongly felt, sharply lucid moment in the artist's life.
This is not to say that Lukacs is incapable of camp - Labours in Natural History, his wax figure of a skinhead fitted out with wires taken from Berlin's major electric plant during the Nazi era, is openly provocative - the word "hate" is written on the knuckles of the figure's left hand. Another painting, Tilly & Tyler (1997), consists of two naked men urinating on top of a planet, or moon, with a face whose tongue licks his lips. Here Lukacs' sensibility is deliberately facetious, a mannerism which may be to some people's, but certainly not to everyone's, taste.
Yet liking Lukacs' art is not so much a matter of taste as it is a matter of understanding. One need not necessarily be gay to be impressed by his handling of male form; at the same time, one need not necessarily be taken in by his ambiguously ironic handling of erotic themes within a context suggestive of German nationalism - a thematic choice which can distance even the sympathetic viewer. His articulation of gay desire does indeed include elements of amoral rawness and open titillation, but his view of things reaches further. The alienated melancholy of his young men is not only a social creation, it is an outlook very close to Lukacs' own. Beyond the rhetoric and the camp of gay desire, the viewer remembers a plaintive tone, a regret.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Parachute Contemporary Art