Eye of the beholder

Aaron Krach probes the essence of beauty, then pokes fun at it

“Art becomes transcendent when it surprises, when it takes the viewer… to someplace new,” asserted conceptual artist/novelist Aaron Krach, in the latest issue of the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation newsletter.

Krach, whose installation, “Beautiful and Transcendent” currently morphs the long entry hallway of the Leslie-Lohman Gallery into a tunnel of visually titillating queer splendor, surely has the transcendence thing down pat.

Yet, thankfully, Krach is a serious-minded young artist who refuses to take himself too seriously. In reading the newsletter Q&A, for example, it becomes gleefully obvious that the interviewer asking him about his life and work is none other than Krach himself.

At the gallery soiree earlier this week to celebrate the installation and the re-release of his novel “Half-Life,” Krach maintained his wry sense of humor. Insiders gained free admission by whispering the secret password, “Lindsay Lohan,” a sly riff on the gallery’s name.

The installation is really a mammoth collage of quirkily arranged, unframed photographs “new, old, found, and not-yet-forgotten” punctuated by seemingly random surprises—plastic animals, stickers, beads and feathers. Don’t forget to look up or you’ll miss the micro-installation, “His Bark is His Bark,” a multi-breed pack of doggie figurines perched atop the display case. Better look down or you might tread on the little Bambi nestled in a furry carpet of pink shag in the corner (titled “Falling Though, Once Again with Too Many Feelings”).

The chief subject matter of the photos is, in the magnificent Leslie-Lohman tradition, males in various states of naked resplendence. But don’t expect the garden-variety studio-lit, club-invite, bare-chested hairless muscleboys. Krach’s men come in all shapes and sizes—often adorned with sparkly stars or a trendy yellow “LIVESTRONG” bracelet—and each exposes his own brand of beauty. Krach is partial to cropping his images just so, to objectify a body part or to allow an otherwise mundane background, such as grass or car interior, to share the spotlight.

Krach manages to achieve beauty on one level, yet at the same time mock it.

“I have a constant—immature, I’m sure—urge to be ironic and sarcastic and not be pretty,” Krach admitted. A prime example is his images of plastic multicolored flowers—like the one on the cover of his novel. They are at once gaily beautiful and fake, the ultimate in tackiness.

Curiously, “Beautiful and Transcendent” evokes a gigantic science project. Photos are mounted with those long pins with colored plastic heads—like the ones from a 4th grade insect collection. Look closely and you’ll even spy a psychedelic butterfly sticker amongst the manflesh. Further down the hall, Krach employs thumbtacks and clear pushpins, perhaps swiped from the gallery’s bulletin board on the opposite wall. The bulk of the assemblage is protected under Plexiglass.

Unlike any written diary could, the work gives offers a glorious glimpse into Krach’s brilliantly inquisitive, somewhat A.D.D.-addled psyche. An ode to beauty or whimsy? You decide.

It’s not evident if the price sheet listing all 98 items is also compiled with irony. Although more than a few images would surely hold up strong on their own, such as his self-portrait, “Aaron NYC, 2003,” “Arm and Water, 2004” and “Father and Child, 2004,” what truly makes this lustrous work transcendent is it’s contextualization, which, alas, is not for sale.

According to gallery assistant director Tom Saettel, creating an installation is hardly child’s play

“I always ask artists who show work in the hall gallery to conceive an environment, to transform the space,” he told me. “Aaron is one of the few who actually got it right.”

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