JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 black and white photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against white walls in the main space in the back of the gallery. All of the works are vintage gelatin silver prints, made between 1931 and 1951 (many undated). Physical sizes range from roughly 5×7 to 10×13 (or reverse) and no edition information was provided. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: In the sweeping history of the photographic nude, George Platt Lynes is an important crossroads figure. While perhaps better known for his society and celebrity portraits taken on assignment for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the 1940s or his glamorous bon vivant lifestyle, his private nudes (both male and female) brought together formal classicism and stagy surrealism, synthesizing disparate aesthetic ideas and pushing them in new directions. This small show provides an instructive sampler of his thinking on the nude, clarifying his many connections to those that came both before and after.
Many of Platt Lynes’ nudes are straightforward studio figure studies, anchored by an exploration of line and form. Drawing on the modernism of Weston, Cunningham, Brassaï, and others who photographed the female form, Platt Lynes instead turned his lens toward the idealized male body, highlighting the alternate sculptural geometries of broad shoulders, narrow hips, and muscular torsos. Sinuous backs and reclining bent knees are matched by athletic handstands and bold X shaped poses, often seen in a tunnel of moody light. In the same way that there is a subtle comfort in the eye of a Cunningham or Bernhard looking at the female form, Platt Lynes’ images of the male form are similarly at ease, undeniably charged with homoeroticism but in search of classical statuesque beauty.
A second group of the photographer’s nudes has a decidedly different stylistic approach. These images turn male and female subjects into actors in single frame narratives, recreating mythological stories and glamorous fables with over-the-top theatrical exaggeration. Acteon howls wearing antlers, Orpheus and Eros play with classical drapery on a Drtikol-like set of ramps, and a tangled pile of male bodies looks like a fragment from The Raft of the Medusa. In these works, the nude form becomes a surreal (almost camp) object, merging with a gnarled tree, covered with paint to look like marble, or seen from below in warped distortion. Platt Lynes’ female nudes have more of this symbolic flavor (at least as seen in this show), where the mysteries of two women and an empty bed or a dramatic sprawl over a vanity are uncertain and open ended.
Circling this room, it’s easy to see how Platt Lynes later became an influential touch point for artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Herb Ritts, or how visual connections and echoes can be drawn between his nudes and the work of Horst or Man Ray or Minor White. Platt Lynes embraced the nude as both a classical ideal and as an experimental genre, and that duality is part of what gives his images their freshness and vitality.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at either $8500 or $10000 each, with one print NFS. While a few of Platt Lynes’ celebrity portraits have come up for auction in the past decade, the secondary market for his work has been largely inconsistent. As a result, gallery retail may still be the best option for those collectors interested in following up.