until 06.01. | #4068ARTatBerlin | Meyer Riegger shows from 04. November 2023 (Opening: 03.11) an exhibition by the artist Jimmy DeSana.
Meyer Riegger shows 53 works from all phases of Jimmy DeSana’s short but productive career. With a series of 56 black-and-white lithographs called 101 Nudes, DeSana completed his art studies at Georgia State University in 1972, where he had initially begun with painting and turned to photography from the second semester onwards. His final project already revealed the themes that had preoccupied DeSana ever since and which, until his AIDS diagnosis in 1985, he was to view mostly with humour: the body, sex, objectification and submission-almost always in a domestic setting.
“I don’t really understand these works as erotic. I look at the body almost as an object.” – Jimmy DeSana on his series Suburban (1979-84)
Jimmy DeSana. Debbie Harry, 1977. vintage C-print. image: 42,2 x 30,8 cm. framed: 60 x 48,9 x 3,5 cm. © Jimmy DeSana Trust. Courtesy of the Jimmy DeSana Trust, P·P·O·W, New York and Meyer. Riegger, Berlin
The queer photographer Jimmy DeSana worked in New York from 1973 until his early death from an AIDS-related illness in 1990: no-wave music, club culture, performance art, the Pictures Generation and mail art – DeSana was not only a key figure in these scenes himself, through his photographs he also advanced to become a chronicler of the queer New York subculture of the 1970s and 1980s.
Despite his prominence in artist circles during his lifetime, DeSana’s work has long received little attention. It was only last year that the Brooklyn Museum in New York staged his first solo museum exhibition, Submission. In July 2024, DeSana’s first institutional show in Germany will open at KW in Berlin.
Jimmy DeSana. Aluminum Foil #1 (Self-Portrait), 1985. cibachrome. Image: 34,3 × 26,7 cm. Sheet: 35,6 × 27,9 cm. © Jimmy DeSana Trust. Courtesy of the Jimmy DeSana Trust, P·P·O·W, New York and Meyer. Riegger, Berlin
For 101 Nudes, DeSana photographed his queer friends in the interior of an American suburban family home: they sit naked at the piano, lie on the sofa or pose in the front garden. There is usually a central object in the picture with which the person interacts. The naked bodies appropriate these objects as insignia of a bourgeois life in unusual positions. In a sort of cloak-and-dagger operation, these young people seem to have penetrated the meaningful order of the American Dream, in which the middle classes of post-war American society have established themselves.
A year after graduating, in 1973, DeSana moved to New York. He began sending his photographs to members of the Mail Art network and the following year the Canadian collective General Idea (AA Bronson, Georg Partz and Jorge Zontal) – whose retrospective is currently on view at Berlin’s Gropius Bau – published photographs by DeSana in their magazine FILE, which has played a central role in the publication of DeSana’s work ever since. (1)
Jimmy DeSana. Coat Hanger, 1980. gelatin silver print. Image: 24,3 x 16,8 cm. Sheet: 25,4 x 20,3 cm – © Jimmy DeSana Trust. Courtesy of the Jimmy DeSana Trust, P·P·O·W, New York and Meyer. Riegger, Berlin
In New York, he produced the central series of his work: Submission (1977-79) and Suburban (1979-84), as well as the Dungeon Series (1978-79). In addition to his freelance work, DeSana took on commissions for album covers (such as Talking Heads’ More Songs about Buildings and Food, 1978), photographed for magazines, newspapers and later portrayed artists such as Laurie Simmons, Debbie Harry and Anya Phillips, one of the founders of the legendary Mudd Club.
In 1980, DeSana published his volume of 29 photographs on the subject of sadomasochistic sex practices under the title Submission. Together with Robert Mapplethorpe, DeSana thus brought representations of gay sex into the public sphere. Immediately after Submission, DeSana began Suburban, a series that continued his exploration of domestic environments with naked people, but now in garish colours rather than black and white. DeSana used artificial light and colour filters for these works and photographed the bodies from strange angles and in twisted poses. DeSana always named his photos, except for the portraits, not after the models, but after the objects depicted in them, on or with which the naked bodies assume unusual postures.
Jimmy DeSana. Refrigerator, 1978 – vintage black and white gelatin print. image: 25,4 x 20,3 cm – frame: 39,1 x 49,5 x 4,8 cm. © Jimmy DeSana Trust. Courtesy of the Jimmy DeSana Trust, P·P·O·W, New York and Meyer. Riegger, Berlin
After DeSana received his AIDS diagnosis in 1985 and became increasingly weak, he restricted his subject matter but continued to work obsessively: He now concentrated on depictions of objects such as candlesticks, but also of human faces, reaching into abstraction. As curator Elisabeth Sussman writes in her essay “Jimmy DeSana: Erotic Miniaturist”, the 1970s were the last decade in which erotic hedonism was not associated with the danger of infection2 – an ignorance that meant great freedom for the queer scene, but which was at the same time restricted or even made impossible on a daily basis by social hostility up to and including violent police attacks, which affected gay men like DeSana at the time. DeSana’s work is an aesthetically stirring negotiation of the subversive power of the queer body between these two poles of freedom and restriction, life and death.
Jimmy DeSana (1949, Detroit–1990, New York)
His recent solo and double exhibitions include the retrospective Submission at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2023; The Sodomite Invasion: Experimentation, Politics and Sexuality in the work of Jimmy DeSana and Marlon T. Riggs, Griffin Art Projects, Vancouver, 2020; and Remainders, Pioneer Works, New York, 2016. DeSana’s work is held in numerous public collections, including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Opening: Friday, 3 November 2023, 6pm – 2pm. Talk: 7 pm
Exhibition dates: Saturday, 04 November until Friday, 22 December 2023 – ATTENTION: extended until Saturday, 6. January 2024The the gallery
Image caption: Jimmy DeSana. Shoe, 1979. stamped by DeSana Estate verso – vintage C-print. Sheet: 40,6 x 50,8 cm, Image: 34,3 x 49,2 cm, © Jimmy DeSana Trust. Courtesy of the Jimmy DeSana Trust, P·P·O·W, New York and Meyer. Riegger, Berlin
Exhibition Jimmy DeSana – Meyer Riegger | Contemporary Art – Kunst in Berlin | Exhibitions Berlin Galleries | ART at Berlin