Attila Richard Lukacs, 12 Polaroid photographs
Attila Richard Lukacs: POLAROIDS
29 April through 25 June, 2011
Attila Richard Lukacs has returned to Berlin with artist/curator Michael Morris to present hundreds of Polaroid studies created as reference images for his paintings. Taken in Vancouver, New York and Berlin between '86 & '96, they are milky images of Aryan-looking men striking all but pornographic poses. At times reserved and diffident –or, contrastingly, outright violent– the photographed subjects are scrupulously lit and composed - sometimes in reference to art historical imagery, and nearly always trashy, obscene - and blatantly sexy.
These homosocial images emblemize Lukacs' fantastic world – a cultivated sexual landscape where women are wholly absent. As one girlfriend remarked to me after seeing the exhibition - it is a constructed plane that, like in the use of the conventional hetero-male-gaze, excludes women as a potential participant in spectatorship. Admirers of Attila's earlier work will recognize some of the models from his large-scale, tar-covered and gold-leaved Caravaggist canvases. They are known for their heroic, homoerotic depictions of pedestrian labourers, hunk skinheads, obedient soldiers and beefy construction workers.
Attila Richard Lukacs. One and many stretched bei Tyler (Diptychon). 1992
Oil on canvas. Each signed and dated "Berlin '92" on verso, one titled. 83x83"
Replete with political tensions and erotic fury, they describe hyper-masculine societies and radical gay subcultures. Without locating itself as anything expressly identity-based or as 'gay-issue' art, Lukacs' work manages to take on a sexual-political assertion by virtue of its relatively radical content. As Earl Miller has contended of his practice - despite being apparently apolitical in approach, through the investigation and representation of his own life and desires "...the work takes on a position of resistance. The apolitical nature of the work becomes accidentally subversive". It's here that we can locate Lukacs' practice as particularly Queer (denoting not necessarily a sexual proclivity, but, as in the sense of Leo Bersani, an active political resistance to ideological norms).
LOVE IN UNION: Amorous meeting, 1992. oil on canvas 118.8x79"
During the gulf-war, for example, he created a series of paintings describing the life and management of military cadets – ambiguous, obedient drones in situations of rigorous rituals. It is through the cadets' indefinite relation to portrayed authority that a rift is opened in the hegemony; we are exposed to the formative elements of their strict dressage.
Attila Richard Lukacs, Gemini, 1990. Oil and gold leaf on canvas 106x76"
Lukacs, himself a military-school alumnus, seeks to undermine authority and expose oppressive ideologies through image-making. In doing so, he enters constructed political situations with paid models that often border on exploitation itself. In the unclothed and abrupt display of these Polaroids, we are given a glimpse into the psycho-sexual setup wherein Lukacs captures the models' awareness of being unsettlingly transformed into an image. Polychrome fingerprints dotted and smeared in oil at the edges, the objects reveal themselves as entities in the oeuvre of Lukacs' performance-based socio-sexual inquiries. Equally a study in desire and spectacle, his photos are evidence of a performative examination of complex power-relations and objectification.
Attila Richard Lukacs, 12 Polaroid photographs
Morris apparently met Lukacs in 1985 at the celebrated 'Young Romantics' exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where Attila exhibited alongside his 'Futura Bold' confederates Angela Grossmann, Graham Gilmore, Derek Root and Gen-X harbinger Douglas Coupland.
When Lukacs moved shortly thereafter to Berlin his relationship with Morris evidently ripened: there the two discussed art and history and went to the public museums in Berlin to study the masters. Morris takes credit in edifying his pupil on the chiaroscuro techniques of Caravaggio.
It feels fated to draw a parallel here to Geroge Platt Lynes and his gay art gurus -curator Monroe Wheeler and writer Glenway Wescott- who similarly gallivanted in Europe as expats in the thirties and forties. Lynes' most erotic studio-shots, sadly, were notoriously destroyed by himself just before his death. The dreamy photographs taken by Lynes have entered the history of gay iconography: not necessarily through the depiction of sexual acts, but through the performing of homosexuality.
George Platt Lynes, Untitled Nude Study
In a similar way, Lukacs performs his Queer identity, and exposes social currents not of discrete gay cultural forces but of emergent Queer voices over the last thirty years. His presented gaze (read, 'gays') reveals a subversive underworld of Queer image and desire.
Perhaps for Lukacs the photos are a type of Queer Lacanian mirror, which supports an authoritative, epic and desirable self-image. It allows a (wary) relationship between the ego and the body, and also between the real and imagined. This echoes the deliberate tension between the real and fantastic we see in his canvases, and also recalls the idealization of 'Nordic' perfectionism in Nazi Germany.
Attila Richard Lukacs, Alex With Skull, 12 Polaroid photographs, n.d.
This problematical idealized beauty, for Lukacs, is linked to the political, anarchic energy of skinhead neo-Nazis and anti-fascists alike: the evolution of the iconography progressed into diverse subcultures - both exhibitive of hyper-masculinity. The fetishization of this imagery seems to stem from Lukacs' attraction to the radical and sexual energy that defined the anarchic Berlin he encountered just after the fall of the wall.
His formal explorations arise from the sexual tension of objectified erotic forms, and the macho agency of butch, Queer subcultures. The Polaroids are the unadulterated vantagepoint from which we witness his performative play with power-roles and political structures.
Straddling the threshold between sexual vigor and irate hostility, Lukacs' practice is the uneasy setting where masturbatory-fantasies meet history-painting.
1This definitive pictorial practice of Mannerist and Baroque canvases gives dimension and weight to painted forms suggested by gradation of value, and intense contrasts between light and shadow - a tenebrous technique that Lukacs has unquestionably refined.
Bersani, Leo. Homos. Harvard, 1995
Lacan, Jacques Le séminaire, Livre I: Les écrits techniques de Freud (texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller), Paris: Seuil, 1975.
Miller, Earl. "Accidental subversives." C Magazine 29 (Spring 1991): 23-27.
Phelps, Robert, with Jerry Rosco, ed. Continual Lessons: The Journals of Glenway
Wescott, 1937-1955. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990
Pranger, Brian. The Arena of Masculinity. London: GM, 1990
Wescott, Glenway; Wheeler, Monroe; Crump, James; Pohorilenko, Anatole; Lynes, GP. When We Were Three. Arena Editions, 1998
Mikhel Proulx is an itinerant cultural producer working with art, performance and historical fiction. His artworks, texts and curated projects have been shown in Canada and Central and Northern Europe. He holds a BFA in drawing from the Alberta College of Art & Design, and has studied digital media and feminist history.