Published June 26, 2023
Muddling the Middle: Noam Parness, Guest Curator
Testudo’s Guest Curator series is an ongoing collaboration with invited curators who select works from our platform based on a theme related to their respective research interests. In celebration of Pride Month, Noam Parness discusses a group of six works by Michael Cuadrado, Jinsik Yoo, and Paul Anagnostopoulos.
As Associate Curator and Exhibitions Manager at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, Parness has organized exhibitions such as Uncanny Effects: Robert Giard’s Currents of Connection (co-curated with Ariel Goldberg, 2020), Arch (co-curated with Daniel J Sander, 2019), and Haptic Tactics (co-curated with Risa Puleo and Daniel J Sander, 2018). Parness co-edited, along with Gonzalo Casals, Queer Holdings: A Survey of the Leslie-Lohman Museum Collection (Hirmer Publishers, 2019). Their upcoming exhibition, Christian Walker: The Profane and the Poignant, co-curated with Jackson Davidow, opens at LLMA in September 2023.
“The line lacks a genuine middle; or maybe its middle is muddled.”
—Wayne Koestenbaum, Odd Secrets of the Line
I have always been drawn to artworks that, as Koestenbaum suggests, muddle the middle–works that waver between states; beginning and end, back and fore, interior and exterior. These works, in their breakdown of opposition and remixing of space, time, and image, reorient my perception of what I thought was possible. They otherwise request that I rethink what I, you, and we see, hear, or feel. The works ask for the prefix of “re,” implying a double or triple take, a newness in the again. While not specifically queer, LGBTQIA+ artists in particular have a penchant for making this type of work. We know what it means to be looked at, again, and again, with dominant perceptions unknowingly rendering us into works of art. Broken into parts, we reconstitute ourselves on the daily, finding space in the middle, moving between different ends of polarities as needed, determined by safety, desire, and myriad other factors. The artists selected here work within liminal spaces, through remixing, reorienting, or reconstruction of parts.
These three artists, regardless of the different strategies and aesthetics, similarly blur the boundaries of form, time, space, and color–even self and other. And while I argue for this queer trend or tactic, it is always vital to remember that there is no singular definition of queer art. Working at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, where pride (and shame, and everything in between) is given space to flourish every month of the year, I know that there are endless possibilities to the ways queer art can look, feel, or sound. Queer life, in its continual transformations, both looks to the past for a lineage and ancestry, while knowing that many of us are not what has come before. Queer art reflects this knowledge, constantly shifting to reflect our survival, joy, pleasure, and tenacity in the face of ongoing social stigma, legal barriers, and violence. Breaking, curving, or muddling the line is but one of many necessary strategies that queer artists can use to mark their experiences, perceptions, and sensations.
Michael Cuadrado’s mixed-media paintings reverberate in their geometric patterning, opening portals and collapsing perception. Cuadrado employs the grid in a way that does not suggest the hard-edges of many painters who employ this form, but instead a suffusion of the artist’s own hand, expressing a texture and depth of particularity instead of so-called universality. In Untitled (2022), the artist grids inkjet prints of his own shadows along with color swatches of oil paints used to explore relational compatibility. This repetitive and shifting form creates a pattern, weaving his own absence as presence into the piece, akin to textiles. In 3-way (2021), as the title might suggest, Cuadrado again explores compatibility through pattern, color, and directional circuitry. Depth of field is collapsed and the edges between border, interior, and orientation are combined and confused. Radiating rectilinear patterns overlap, while arrows redirect our vision toward the painting’s interior, and above it–to an outside or elsewhere. Cuardrado’s impulse to use secondary colors in comparison to primary colors is a gesture that references the subject position of marginality, inspired by Sarah Ahmed’s idea of otherness as posited in Queer Phenomenology.
Jinsik Yoo creates complex ceramic works built with layered slabs and glazing. Yoo’s work speaks to the ways that visibility and invisibility condition queer life, shifting others’ perceptions at different points in time. Yellow Shoulder (2020) was generated from figurative parts, disassembled and reassembled to create an abstracted three-dimensional form. This multi-step process generates a work suggestive of the figure(s) from which they came but occluding clear or normative figures in its final form. Last Summer No. 5 (2022) reads like ceramic relief on tile, suggesting more of the nude figure than in Yellow Shoulder–bodies glazed like metallic slate are entangled in each other, while fore and background are conflated. This piece celebrates queer desire, derived from an image of people sunbathing on the beach. Yoo’s practice further plays with deconstruction and reconstruction of the form through working from photographs that get turned into paintings, which are then combined to generate sculptural forms in ceramic. This process blends strategies of representation and suppression, giving way to artworks that necessitate multiple and simultaneous meaning.
Paul Anagnostopoulos’s paintings fragment temporalities through reappropriation of classical Greco-Roman form (a queer tendency with a long history), with a twist of ‘90s computer graphics and contemporary queer romance. Nothing Will Keep Us Together (2020) blends a scene of domestic intimacy while the question of loss hangs in the air. Two outlined figures embrace–are they kissing or crying, tender or pained? Both, perhaps. A rose burning blue grows inside the right figure’s posterior–a literal thorn in their side. A pedestal rendered in gradient emerges in the foreground with another rose atop it, standing inside a cracked vase with nude, battling figures. The classical form breaks against the surreal landscape–checkered floor fading into mountaintops. I Swear I Loved You (2020) includes two bust figures, the left face rendered as flesh with depth, while the right is a simpler red outline. The two float together encased in heart-shaped thorns set against a flat blue background, suggestive of a shoulder tattoo. This work, as the artist notes, “serves as a memorial to an earlier, lost queer generation.” Both faces with short hair and mustaches evoke the “clone” look of gay men commonly envisioned in the 70s, invoking the memory of those lost to the ongoing AIDS epidemic.