The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Looking Backward
Larry Clark
they thought i were but i aren’t anymore
Photo by Larry Clark . Source:
Larry Clark, "Untitled" 2013

If you are one of the people who have always wondered what Larry Clark’s penis looks like, the latest show by the legendary photographer at Luhring Augustine Gallery is meant for you. Always interested in the shock value of his photographs, Clark continues his abiding interests in teenage sex and drugs, but as he approaches his golden years, he seems to have taken up scrapbooking, and has begun a maudlin review of the pleasures and causalities of his old ways – hence the rather incoherent present show, they thought i were but i aren’t anymore…

The photographic works in the show are predominantly large collections of what seem to be drug-store prints arranged in rough grids and pasted onto large sheets of foam core. These works seemingly stem from collages that Clark has exhibited earlier. A small work, the initial piece encountered as you enter the gallery, juxtaposes a picture of a young Bob Dylan, a vintage self-portrait of Clark, various male body parts and Mickey Mantle. The message is a bit cloudy, but the Larry Clark signature at the top is clear and legible.

Photo by Larry Clark . Source:
Larry Clark, "I want a baby before u die" 2010

A second much larger collage, a homage to actor Brad Renfro entitled, “I want a baby before u die,” is the most effective piece in a generally weak show. (Renfro, the star of the 2001 Larry Clark film “Bully”, died of a heroin overdose in 2008 at the age of 25.) The tribute is a collection of photographs, newspaper clippings (Renfro’s arrest on a drug charge made the front page of the Los Angeles Times) and what looks like memorabilia. Although obscure to this observer (other more savvy viewers found recognizable faces and references) the effect is engaging and sobering.

Photo by Larry Clark . Source:
Larry Clark, "Knoxville II (homage to Brad Renfro)" 2012

Not so the other collages. Two of these oversized pieces, (endless series of images of the shirtless actor posing for the camera, trying to find a vein, and shooting up,) are also homages to Renfro. In the first we are treated to 112 such images in irregular rows on foamcore. In the second another 112 from the same shoot are shown. (I don’t know if there are duplicates, but there are plenty of ‘similars’.) In this second piece the pictures are mounted on two sheets of foam core that have been prepared with streams and smears of blood – whether Renfro’s, Clark’s or an anonymous cow’s is not made clear.

There are a number of Clark paintings in this show, including a rather diabolical self-portrait, but as this is a photography review, let’s just say they are awful and avoid the tedious comparisons to George W. Bush.

Photo by Larry Clark . Source:
Larry Clark, "Self portrait with tan (2)" 2014

The two photographic self-portraits are another matter. Clark has done self-portraits all through his career, and some have become memorable and helped define him as a photographer. These collages, too, are defining, but in a rather pathetic way. Each is in the same poster board style as the Renfro tributes, but starring the photographer himself, or we should say rather, starring his very own penis. Not that every picture in these big collages features it, (it is in only 35 out of 73 in one; 40 out of 58 in the other), but Clark does seem to want to photograph it from every conceivable angle.

It’s unclear when these color images were made. The more relevant question, though, is not when, but why, and why now? Clark is now 71 years old, but nothing in this work evokes John Coplans, or a Coplanesque self-examination. If anything, the images are more of a self-indulgent reverie.

Then, of course, there are the vintage self-portraits from the 70’s in the center of each collage. Early editions of those photographs must have sold out years ago, but here, nestled amidst the mediocre imagery are new versions, that might still attract a buyers eye. In the end the only thing clear in these pieces is that Larry Clark’s signature is even bigger than his penis.

Larry Clark
they thought i were but i aren’t anymore

Luhring Augustine
531 W 24th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 206 9100

Saturday, June 7 to
Friday, August 1, 2014
Hours: Tue-Sat, 12 to 6

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