Pacifico Silano, If You Gotta Hurt Somebody, Please Hurt Me @Rubbery Factory and @Fragment

JTF (just the facts): A two-venue exhibit, with works shown in two separate gallery spaces, as below:

Rubber Factory

  • 3 dye sublimation prints in custom artist frames, 2022, sized 50×40, 8×10 inches, in editions of 3+1AP
  • 1 dye sublimation print in chrome artist frame, 2022, sized 70×20 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 1 dye sublimation print mounted on custom oval museum box, 2022, sized 22×17 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 2 sets of archival pigment prints UV laminated, mounted to museum boxes, 2022, sized roughly 40×30, 20×47 inches, in editions of 3+1AP
  • (1 image printed on silk, draped over block forms, shown on pedestal, not on checklist)

Fragment Gallery

  • 1 dye sublimation print in custom artist’s frame, 2022, sized 40×50 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 1 dye sublimation print mounted on custom oval museum box, 2022, sized 22×17 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 2 sets of archival pigment prints UV laminated, mounted to museum boxes, 2022, sized roughly 50×66, 30×44 inches inches, in editions of 3+1AP
  • 1 set of 3 archival pigment prints UV laminated, mounted to museum boxes, PhotoTex, 2022, sized roughly 50×179 inches, in an edition of 1+1AP
  • 1 set of 5 UV laminated archival pigment prints on separate museum boxes, 2022, each sized 8×10 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 1 dye sublimation print folded in half, 2022, sized 30×40 inches, no edition information provided (shown on pedestal)

(Installations shots for both venues below, beginning with Rubber Factory.)

Comments/Context: Over the past handful of years, Pacifico Silano has smartly used archives of gay pornography, mostly from 1960s and 1970s era magazines, as rich source material for photographic appropriations that have isolated and re-imagined the performative imagery. In a 2019 gallery show (reviewed here), he deliberately played with the stylized elusiveness of desire, layering fragments of spreads into fleeting glimpses of potential encounters and experimenting with overlapped collages that mixed frames and images applied directly to the walls. The resulting works were often formally inventive, and quietly probed the emotional terrain of longing, with an eye for the visual trappings of nostalgia.

Silano’s new works, as seen in this split-venue paired gallery show, have an undercurrent of simmering risk that is altogether darker and more unsettled. What Silano is unpacking here is the white American queer culture that turns exaggerated masculinity into a fetish, amplifying the muscular tropes of the soldier, the policeman, the cowboy, the biker, the construction worker, and other overtly male roles into simplified one-dimensional caricatures. Silano’s compositions follow these playfully performative motifs, and then unravel their potential for a more dangerous turn toward implied menace and violence.

The power in these works lies in their hints and undertones, and Silano has cropped and presented the pictures in ways that highlight the psychologies at work. Many of the images have a military flavor, or co-opt military symbols. Men in crisp white sailor hats stare with intention, a man wearing dog tags raises his shirt seductively, and a series of men in aviator sunglasses sparkle with masculine cool, each pushing the original meaning of those motifs somewhere slightly more perilous. The implication of violence becomes more explicit in an image of a shirtless man holding a long rifle, its phallic angle almost comic but still threatening.

Other works run through a catalog of masculine stereotypes, each with its own insinuations. An unseen man in a leather jacket and perched on a motorcycle receives fawning attention from another man. Another man in the white hard hat of a construction worker is seen from the back, his huge muscled shoulders nearly overfilling the available space. And several works hit on the heroic myths of the American West, where the practical allure of rugged old trucks, desert roads (with nearby phallic cacti), and faded work shirts and denim jeans (which might be removed) is infused with a spark of potential seduction.

Several of the most psychologically charged works in these two shows have an almost horror movie aesthetic, where something violent seems ready to happen. One replicates the shape of a long mirror, showing us a scene inside a Psycho variant shower stall with just one male arm held out for balance, its doubled shadow giving us a momentary shock. A similar use of gesture as implication comes in a diptych that pairs a hand grasping the frame of a door with feet lounging by the edge of a swimming pool; in their original context, these body parts likely didn’t seem scary, but there’s just enough uncertainty in the images as cropped by Silano to make for stories of fleeing violence or bodies already dead.

The same might be said for another diptych that captures a man in a wildflower meadow – at first he kneels holding a yellow daisy, and later he seems to nap in the sun, with his clothes draped over a nearby bush; but if we follow Silano down a darker road, the story turns more malevolent and the man might not actually be sleeping. A sculptural work installed in the center on one of the galleries has a similar kind of implied harm, with two clenched fists reoriented by their presentation on loosely flowing silk.

One other technique that Silano uses to undermine the toxic masculinity in some of these images is to display them as delicate ovals, like tender personal keepsakes found in lockets. In one work, he features a man’s hairy chest adorned by a small cross necklace; in another, he captures a tight view of two men wrestling, their arms interlocked and one’s man face in a grimace. Both images feel oddly intimate in this form, like objects charged with memory.

Silano isn’t the first artist to explore the codes of gay male attraction, but his images and collages clearly offer us a unique investigation of fantasy infused with masculine power. As seen here, implied strength and implied violence lie right next to each other along a continuum of behaviors, and Silano’s most potent works force us to engage with that uneasy reality. While the pathways of desire are inherently difficult to chart, these works ask sharp questions about masculinity pushed to extremes, and provide unexpected connections to the contemporary forms of exaggerated male role playing that simmer through our polarized age.

Collector’s POV: The works in these two shows are priced between $3000 and $20000, based on size. Silano’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Pacifico Silano, Fragment Gallery, Rubber Factory

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