‘TWO MEN ON A PORCH’ Oil on panel by Forrest Williams, 44 by 72 inches, 2006-7.
The Kymara Gallery, the curatorial project of the ambitious and audacious Kymara Lonergan, is the location of a stirring exhibition titled "Two Loves," containing works from the permanent collection of New York's prestigious Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Its 30 to 40 original sculptures, screenprints, paintings, and drawings trace and observe gay and lesbian sex, identity, and culture as it appears in fine art over several centuries, providing a panoramic view through numerous discrete art movements and circles.
Lonergan, an installation artist and Leslie-Lohman associate, has fashioned the room to resemble the Silver Factory, Andy Warhol's legendary New York art studio from 1962 to 1984. Glitter speckles the floor and tinfoil adorns the room's walls and posts, while a jar of candy — a Factory staple, she says — has been placed in the room's center. Besides the nod to a significant landmark of the New York art world and gay cultural history, these adornments make another thing clear: "Two Loves" is a show where we can forget the way we're supposed to act inside an art gallery. More than inviting a chinstroking attention to formalism, the works here serve as quality attestations that the culture and content of gay life thrives in the world of high art, despite its many and heavy-handed marginalizations.
Containing works by heavyweights such as Warhol, Keith Haring, and Charles Gatewood, its most engaging pieces are historical keepsakes from slightly less notorious figures, such the tumescent male figure rendered on a corrugated tin and wood surface that Gustav Von Will painted around the Christopher Street Pier in the late '70s, a signature of a vibrant gay social movement in New York. Drawings from Maine-born fashion illustrator Robert W. Richards shape a classic narrative of a misfit youth escaping both his cloistered Maine upbringing and military duties (he was dismissed . . . three guesses why), while several outstanding international artists observe the subject history of the male nude in increasingly eroticized renderings.
Warhol is more than just a specter here. His "Sex Parts" series, a rarely shown 1978 collection of large, black-and-white screenprints depicting coarse, de-individualized images of gay male sex acts, is one of the show's coups. They hang proudly en masse on the gallery's long wall, and for those who know Warhol only through his pop art ministrations, their content surely makes for some of the most impressive visuals to have graced the old Biddeford factory mill in a long time.
The supply of lesbian art is notably thinner. Lorell Butler's "Please Leave a Message," a 48-by-48-inch acrylic on wood panel from 1992, depicts two near naked female torsos in an amorous tango while bound by several ropes, which bisect their ripened areolae into gagged lipsticked mouths. Conflating themes of sexual fetishism and muzzling — both of gender and sexuality, you have to think — it's one of the show's most interesting studies. Same goes for Janet Cooling's two oil paintings from 1995, which depict contorted female figures in cartoonish masquerade, as though seen (and expected to perform) from the dominant perspective of the male gaze.