Nubile Forms, Bodies Too

Christopher Makos, Calvin Klein collaborate in latest photo collection

If the smart charcoal suit, white shirt with thin blue pinstripes, stylishly tousled blondish hair and black bejeweled spectacles don’t tip you off that you’re in the presence of Christopher Makos, then his sense of humor might.

“This is my Spanish countryside ‘gentry’ look,” Makos joked about his appearance. “I have to dress a little conservatively for these openings.”

Conservative is not the word that comes to mind to describe Makos’ latest collection of photographs in his new book, “Exhibitionism.” As Bruce Weber notes in the book’s liner notes, “[H]ow lucky to have Chris Makos as a neighbor: He plays loud music all night, has great looking lads coming and going. I love the results of that circus—elegance and unabashed beauty that is born.”

It is elegance and beauty that first attracted Calvin Klein to Makos’ works. The renowned fashion designer featured Makos’ photographs at his flagship Madison Avenue store in 2001, and the two have been collaborating ever since. Given the pop cultural nature of Makos’ photos, the two men’s tastes seem to meet at the perfect intersection. The designer helped produce “Exhibitionism.”

As a meditation on contemporary masculinity, Makos’ new collection presents some very familiar images, but with his jet turbine, the shining chrome fender of a late ‘50s Chevy, and tasteful close ups of nude male statues, Makos takes a critical stab at what it is to be a gay man today, invoking a gay Americana theme. More than simply a series of portraits, Makos’ photographs remove the popularized conceptions of gay male sexuality from the glossy pages of magazines that have come to define an entire culture—the rippling forearm, the twisted torso or the tight buttocks of tattooed and shaved Adonises—and reverently contextualizes them in a way that is not only critically important, but also pleasing to the eye.

“I like to think of [these pieces] as a study in pleasurism,” said Makos, who has made a career of suspending the banal over the enigmatic. He reaches for something all together more provocative and meaningful, launching the viewer on a re-evaluation of that which we hold sacred, erotic or close to our hearts. Makos’ technique involves mapping two cropped images next to one another, a recurring thematic device within his career. The technique will often result in images of different developing effects—such as a sepia-tone photograph and a black and white shot—complementing each other. The results are varied, sometime positing a subtle difference to the eye, while other pieces throw the viewer off.

“With these two ideas,” Makos said, pointing at the photographs, “you create a third concept.”

Flashing his trademark smile, he asked the question that rests uncomfortably below the surface of most of the pieces in his exhibition: “How do you get your pleasure?”

His split-screen approach plays with the viewer’s visceral sensibilities, poking through the subconscious to trace the familiar patterns of our everyday life. When asked which was his favorite piece, Makos replied, “[This] is like having all your former lovers in one room. ‘Oh wait… do I know you?’ Then after a minute—it sinks in,” he added, the smile creeping across his face.

At one point during the opening reception, a woman with the gallery asked Makos where he’d like to sit in order to sign several copies of the book. With a typical wave of both arms in the air, Makos responded, half-pouting, half-jesting, “I don’t want to sit down. I want to stand up and make a scene.”

In the world of art and pop culture, Christopher Makos has done just that.

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