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Queer Visual Culture
George Dureau Exhibition at Higher Pictures
Posted by: Wik Wikholm on 06/27/12
Last updated on: 06/27/12
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Detail from "Raymond Maxwell" (1986) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures Gallery.
The Higher Pictures gallery is presenting Black, the first New York solo exhibition by photographer George Dureau (b. 1930). The exhibition consists of fifteen photographs from 1973 through 1986 whose subjects are African-American men from New Orleans. The exhibition will end on July 13, 2012.

Dureau is best known for his male figure studies and narrative paintings in oil and charcoal and for his black-and-white photographs, which often feature street youths, dwarfs, and amputees. Critic Kenneth Holditch has observed that his best work is laced with paradoxes: "the joyful and painful, the beautiful and ugly, the spiritual and sensual, and most significant of all the real in sharp juxtaposition to that which is vividly imagined."

Wilbert Hines
"Wilbert Hines" (1977) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures.

In his glbtq encyclopedia entry on Dureau, Claude Summers writes that "Dureau's photographs have often been compared with those of Robert Mapplethorpe. But the influence runs not from Mapplethorpe to Dureau but from Dureau to Mapplethorpe. The photographers were friends in the early 1970s. Mapplethorpe was greatly moved by Dureau's photographs, even to the point of restaging many of Dureau's earlier compositions."

Dureau and Mapplethorpe--both white men--have often chosen African-American subjects for their art. Mapplethorpe's Black Book (1986) is better known than Dureau's work, but it is also quite different. The book comprises a series of brilliantly composed photographs of black men as seen through the lustful eyes of a white gay photographer. The book's images present black men as deliciously alluring objects of the homosexual male gaze and little else. African-American artist Glenn Ligon effectively characterized Mapplethorpe's work as racist in his own piece Notes on the Margin of the Black Book (1991-1993), which juxtaposes Mapplethorpe's images with comments by accomplished African-American leaders and intellectuals. Ligon's piece has the effect of turning Mapplethorpe's one-dimensional sex objects into complex, interesting people.

Raymond Maxwell
"Raymond Maxwell" (1986) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures.

George Dureau's work is not susceptible to the same criticism. As Claude Summers has observed, Dureau's work is distinct from Mapplethorpe's chiefly because it is characterized by an empathy and kindness absent from Mapplethorpe's photographs. It is that empathy and Dureau's interest in depicting and finding beauty in amputees, dwarfs, fat men, and others who are not usually considered beautiful that makes his work such an important contribution to the gay male tradition in photography.

Visit the Higher Pictures website for more information about the exhibition's hours and location in New York City.

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