We Went to Chelsea: Larry Clark

by Paddy Johnson and Whitney Kimball on July 9, 2014 Reviews


Install shot of they thought i were but i aren’t anymore… Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

Larry Clark: they thought i were but i aren’t anymore…
Luhring Augustine
531 W 24th Street
New York, NY 10011
Runs through August 1, 2014

What’s on view: A survey of Larry Clark’s work over the last four years along with two black and white photographs of men from the late 60’s. This means photographs of sexily posed young boys; paintings of sexily posed young boys; vitrines full of fairly random cultural ephemera like a newsclipping of Obama, a porn star, and some zebra print fabric. Mostly, there’s a lot of young boys.

Paddy: Brad Renfro had “Fuck Y’all” tattooed on back two days before he died of a heroin overdose. He was 25. That knowledge paired with Clark’s photo collages of Renfro making “fuck you” faces while grabbing his mother’s breast or shooting up lead me to believe that he didn’t give a fuck about much more than getting high. Most of the photographs look vaguely sexualized, as if this lifestyle had some appeal.


Larry Clark’s “Knoxville (Homage to Brad Renfro).” Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

It’s hard to feel that much sympathy for the actor given the tone of much of these images, but it still doesn’t sit right with me that Larry Clark has exploited his illness to make commentary that would be illuminating only to the lobotomized. That may sound harsh, but it’s not unwarranted; in one collage, the photographer arranged hundreds of photographs of Renfro in the shape of America. Clark, it seems, believes that the country is defined by sickness and chose the image of a dead actor to prove it. In another room, he implicates himself, drawing his own blood and splattering it over the surface. Is this supposed to be some sort of act of catharsis?

These two collages face each other—the bloodied one in a room tucked in the back, and America (my nickname—it’s titled Knoxville (homage to Brad Renfro)) in the main show room—and they read as a diptych. That larger space is filled with gloopy paintings of boys and a couple more collages—one with a dope bag and a napkin that says “This will not end well”, the rest arranged by genitals. The only two redeeming photographs are lost in this; the documentary-style portraits he shot in the 60’s.


Larry Clark’s “Adam, Marfa, TX.” Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

The remaining work takes the form of a series of three portraits pictures a young boy, flat chested, with supple lips and glowing skin. In the context of all this, the picture is creepy as fuck. As Christian Viveros-Faune rightly noted in his evisceration of the show, “It’s hard to look at these photos and not wonder where the boy’s parents are.”

Whitney: Yeaaahhhh. I guess there’s an argument to be made here that great art is supposed to offend us. As Marilyn Minter would say: “Yesterday’s smut is today’s erotica”. It’s never going to be okay to have sex with kids, so this is always going to “push the envelope”. Um.

Kids walked a really fine line between truth and total fetishizing of self-destruction– to a bleak degree that you can only understand with age. That kind of sank in for me when I saw, amongst all of Larry Clark’s child porn, a 2007 Lindsay Lohan Maxim shoot with the pull quote: “My breasts have been a really big hit”. It drives home how close the relationship can be between sexualizing a person and totally destroying them.

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