Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Meet Taylor Mead at Boyd Satellite

Shocking? A male nude? Masculine/Masculine: The Nude Man in Art From 1800 to the Present Day, a thorough exhibition which included more than two hundred sculptures and paintings related to the subject took place at the Musée d'Orsay in 2013, and according to the curator, "the paradox is that we think we live in a very liberated society but the male nude still troubles people." This month, Boyd Satellite gallery is testing its visitors with three photographs of  a naked Taylor Mead taken by Andres Serrano. A collection of selfies made by Blake Nelson Boyd as part of the Taylor Mead photobooth series, paintings, drawings and memorabilia complete the exhibition Taylor Mead in Exile.
There is no way to avoid the three giant photographs (60"x 50") organized like a triptych at the entrance of the gallery. The unconventional portraits of Taylor Mead, cut at the level of the upper thighs, are showing a decrepit body supported by a cane, staged in provocative poses: contrapposto on the left, full derrière in the middle and prominent display of sexual organs on the right. He is obviously enjoying the session and above all, the then eighty six years old artist appears perfectly comfortable with his body. On the same wall, the series of photo-booth pictures taken in 1995 by Boyd look like miniatures. A younger Mead sits in different costumes, from tin man to Superman or Mickey Mouse, relishing the roles. Mead was a poet, an actor and also a painter. Five of his abstract and semi-abstract paintings surrounded by almost twenty of his drawings on the opposite wall attest of that. Each piece tells a short story and the subjects vary, but exposed genitals and cats provide most of them. A projection of the "Lonesome Cowboys", a film by Andy Warhol featuring Mead as one of the actors, next to photographs in black and white of Taylor Mead and friends, provides a sampling of the artist as an actor. Memorabilia, including cane, hat, glasses, a copy of  "On Amphetamine and in Europe" published in 1968, even a sample of his ashes, give a museum-like quality to the exhibition, a celebration of the artist's life.
Serrano's photographs steal the show. Nude? Male nude? Old male nude? One can see plenty of buttocks while visiting the Uffizi in Florence: warriors, athletes, ephebes or angels, but nothing like this. Serrano is not the first to show ugly old men, Lucian Freud comes to mind. The classical poses and the use of chiaroscuro, a venerable technique, with a black background shadowing the pale flesh, make the compositions a pastiche. Serrano and his sitter are a prefect match, both relishing controversy (remember Piss Christ from Serrano? ) What makes the photographs provocative? When looking at a nude, we are expecting to find beauty, but beauty cannot be old according to stereotypes. I found the nudes beautiful because genuine. Mead is not afraid to expose himself, embracing his appearance, his frailty, with a wink in the eyes, defiant of time, for ever young. What disturbs the viewer is that the photographs, like mirrors in fairy tales, represent the time to come. The recoil at first look is a learned behavior, similar to looking at spiders or snakes. Is not art supposed to bring us out of our comfort zone? To quote Mead:" You want to play around with poets but you don't want any of the dangers or consequences."
Mead is not in exile, he has found a place in New Orleans.

photographs by the author:

Taylor Mead pill bottles from Blake Boyd's collection

from the "Nude" series, Andres Serrano, 2012