ABOVE: Courtesy of Ruckus
BELOW: Courtesy of the exhibition



Richard Gallo: Performance and Studio 1968-1980

Review

Andy Warhol claimed, “Richard Gallo is more glamorous than Marlene Dietrich. They should keep his wardrobe in a memory bank.” Perhaps as an answer to this wish, Richard Gallo: Performance and Studio 1968-1980 acts as historical revisionism, highlighting and contextualizing work from the titular artist in a way that has largely been overlooked in the intervening decades. The exhibition itself is a collection of evenly spaced framed photographs—an outgrowth of the Richard Gallo Archives in Manhattan—which belt the perimeter of the Cressman Center. Each photo showcases Gallo himself, whose work is a seamless blend of theater directorship, fashion design, and street performance art.

The aesthetic is somewhat familiar. There is a likeness to various kink fashions: black leather wrapping tightly (and incompletely) around Gallo’s notably muscular figure, heavy combat-like boots, and large open fishnets, to name a few. At a glance, there’s an aggressiveness present. The very first thing one notices upon entering the space is a larger-than-life vinyl Gallo, whose partially visible crotch is essentially at eye level. Nevertheless, the performance elements of his work prioritize a gentleness: inviting arms outstretched in many photographs, or a calm and obvious patience with police in others. Nancy Spector remarked once that “The medium of photography yields the perfect arena for the play of gender and sexuality.” While this is not an exhibition on photography (rather, a collection of documentations on performance and costume), the stillness of these images enables us to better see those blended elements that constitute Gallo’s work.

Richard Gallo: Performance and Studio 1968-1980 is not a retrospective in the traditional sense. There’s a crucial distance in the presented narrative: one of an artist whose practice defied categorization and has been partially lost. What’s left is something between a torn out magazine pinup, an obituary, and a sexual fever dream. This feels appropriate for Gallo, as the didactic text of the show points out that he “made no distinction between his public performance and his personal life. He dressed the same on stage, on the street, and in private.” In a similar blurriness, the images in the exhibition are difficult to discuss individually. Instead, if taken as a whole, they depict a complex relationship between art and life which seems at times intense, and at others deeply joyful.

Within the text, there is little (if any) pontificating on this material as it relates to modern gender and sexual identity politics, or as it relates to contemporary performance and fashion. Instead, a collection of original photographic prints has been painstakingly collected and assembled in a humble show on Main Street in Downtown Louisville in 2019. The result is a quiet celebration of an artist whose career was cut short due to declining health, and whose record was largely ignored by a queerphobic mainstream art world. Richard Gallo: Performance and Studio 1968-1980, instead, is the kind of ordinary urban show that Gallo deserved during his time in New York, if not also in Louisville today.

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Richard Gallo: Performance and Studio 1968-1980 is on display at the Cressman Center for Visual Art through February 23, 2019. The Cressman Center is located at 100 E Main St, Louisville, KY 40202, and is open Wednesday - Friday: 11:00am - 6:00pm, Saturday: 11:00am - 3:00pm.

Notes:
  • Cressman Center
  • Show Book
  • Kirby, Victoria Nes. “Festival Mondial Du Theatre.” The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 17, no. 4, 1973, pp. 4–5. Andy Warhol.
  • Blessing, Jennifer. Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography. New York, New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 1997.

L Autumn Gnadinger
Contributor and Digital Content Editor for Ruckus
2.9.19

Untitled (Grand Army Plaza), 1970, Unknown photographer, Silver gelatin print.


Untitled, 1973, Andres Lander, Chromogenic print.



Lemon Heads, 1968, Unknown photographer, Silver gelatin print.


Untitled (Mr. Bold), 1970, Christopher Makos, Print.



Untitled (Studio 54), circa 1979, Allan Tannenbaum, Silver gelatin print.



Untitled, 1973, Andres Lander, Silver gelatin print.