JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls (and in some cases against image-printed vinyl wallpaper) in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2019. Physical dimensions are either 50×40 or 20×16 inches, and all of the prints are available in editions of 3+1AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: The idea of using an archive of dated pornography as the starting point for a contemporary artistic investigation of subtle emotions isn’t exactly an obvious one. Pornography, by its very intention, is a stylized, performative, and exaggerated facsimile of real desire, seduction, and eroticism – its images and setups have been designed to maximize excitement and fantasy, so much so that the pictures often deliberately stray quite far from anything we might call real human relationships. So to reconsider such imagery with an eye for nuance and empathy is certainly an unlikely and ambitious creative jump.
The pictorial raw material for Pacifico Silano’s recent rephotographed works comes from vintage gay erotica from the period between the late 1960s and the 1980s, the years effectively bookended by the Stonewall riots and the height of the AIDS epidemic. Looking back on that time from the position of the present, the history is undeniably charged and tumultuous, with increased openness, freedom, and acceptance of the gay community weighed down by the pervasive tragedy wrought by the disease.
Silano’s works actively wrestle with this conflicted, melancholy mood. He arranges images from the magazines – complete with staples, frayed seams, and torn edges – into overlapped collages, physically layering the pictures into strips and squared off geometries. The resulting rephotographed compositions are ordered but elusive, with the male faces and bodies seen in fleeting glimpses rather than explicit close-ups, and enlarged far beyond their original scale, the textures of the original materials becoming as apparent as the imagery.
This approach of covering and cropping interrupts the usual pornographic transaction between the subject and the viewer, in a sense frustrating that manufactured desire. Any overt centerfold-style imagery of genitals or sex has been hidden or removed, and what Silano instead teases out is something moodier – looks and poses that feel lonely and longing, where the connection doesn’t actually converge. We see an angled arm, a muscled back, a shadowy silhouette, a searching glance over a shoulder, but nothing more. As isolated single eyes intently watch us, the ocean crashes on the beach, the moon rises into the dark night sky, a swimming pool looks inviting, and a blue-sheeted bed awaits, but although the scenes are set, the potential seductions never quite arrive. Instead, Silano offers us frieze of visual abstraction, where image fragments and strips of bright color interact as forms.
This kind of photographic reuse has its roots in the appropriations of the Pictures Generation, but Silano isn’t critiquing or satirizing media culture, he is instead embracing it, in search of overlooked resonances. There is a poignancy to be found in these works that seems wholly incongruous with their origins in pornography, and it is this unexpected reversal that makes them all the more thought-provoking and engaging.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $4600 or $2400, 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.