I first saw the work of artist Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt earlier this year at MoMA PS1. The exhibition, appropriately titled Tender Love Among the Junk, nearly left me breathless: not only was it comprised of several rooms of quirky, colorful, astounding works, but the richness of the art — its layers and details, the way it opens up to prolonged revelation — made the show feel larger. I only had about one hour, maybe less, and I knew instantly that I could have spent several.
Lanigan-Schmidt is a pioneering gay artist. He was a participant in the Stonewall riots, captured with a grin in a famous photograph from that night by Fred W. McDarrah, and his art is built around an incredibly unique aesthetic vision that seems to me to embody the definition of camp. For one, it’s sparkly and kitschy — cellophane, glitter, and tinsel are staple materials for him — but beyond the bright and shiny surfaces, there’s incredible depth and nuance. Look closer, and you’ll find bits of colors laid down in mesmerizing combinations, photos embedded among pipe cleaners, a Sun-Maid raisins container held down with holographic tape. Lanigan-Schmidt forges his art out of the trappings of life, but unlike others working in the same vein, he insists on total transformation. He’s created his own taste, his own category — which, as Bryan Lowder writes in Slate, is the very process of camp. Camp, Lowder explains, is the embrace of nuance:
The nuance exists in opposition to “received wisdom, obviousness, stereotype,” and Barthes had a term for these nasty, imagination-binding shackles—doxa. Ignoring doxa in favor of the nuance, then, is an escape hatch, a secret passageway out of “the system” into a freer space of aesthetic engagement defined wholly by the eccentricities and proclivities of the reader, viewer, listener, whatever.
Lanigan-Schmidt leads us out of the system into a completely unfamiliar place, and the results are revelatory. A wide range of his work is currently on view in the exhibition Ecce Homo at Pavel Zoubok Gallery. I took photos, hoping to capture some of the magic.
Ecce Homo: Thomas Lanigan-Schmit and the Art of Rebellion ends today at Pavel Zoubok Gallery (531 West 26th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan).