Mark Aguhar: M4M

Lawndale Art Center, Houston

Chelsea Beck

Mark Aguhar, Brawny, 2010; pencil, ink, gouache and watercolor on paper; 5 x 8 inches; courtesy the artist and Lawndale Art Center, Houston

Mark Aguhar, Dennis, 2011; rope, nails; 5 feet 11 inches; courtesy the artist and Lawndale Art Center, Houston

Color, pattern and flesh collide through a kaleidoscope of thrift store-inspired patterns in gouaches like No Top Needed (2010), on view in Mark Aguhar’s solo exhibition M4M at Lawndale Art Center. Then comes the moment of Zen: thick cocks and dildos penetrating hair-rimmed assholes emerge from the abstractions. If you take Grandma along to see the show, she might not notice all the fucking going on. (Most likely the title won’t tip her off either, because she probably doesn’t peruse gay personals. It means “man for man,” Granny!) Even for the most porn-savvy gallerygoer, Aguhar delays that moment of recognition, when plaid becomes penis, with well-measured doses of tenderness and aggression that characterize his best works.

The balance of these frequently irreconcilable traits eludes Aguhar in other works, instead curdling into cloying teenage cuteness and angst. Girlfriend Looks 1-4, Slumber Party (Eric and Daniel in my makeup kit) and Mopping (Chris in my undies on Dennis’s bed) (all 2010) depict queer boys modeling varying amounts of hair, flab and clothing. The boys pose, lounge or look at other boys on computers in their bedrooms. The style and ambition of these drawings has a self-indulgent diaristic attitude best suited for a zine (another medium explored by the artist in this exhibition). If Aguhar, as he states in his artist statement, wants to show viewers “what it means to have grown up gay on the Internet,” it appears that he's taking this otherwise compelling idea too literally in these drawings. By contrast, the most ostensibly oblique works in the exhibition––sculptures made simply of knotted colored rope––are also the most direct and evocative.

The fastidious styling and illustrative storytelling that dominate many of the works on paper disappear in Aguhar’s rope sculptures, each titled with a male name. Aguhar made Victor (2011), for example, by knotting a generous length of thick black rope in multiple places. Piled in the corner of the gallery, it looks like something or someone has come undone…has Victor gotten loose? Also in rope is Steve F (2010), with one end knotted and nailed to the wall while the other end rests on the floor with a loop where I imagine a head could go; or am I a pervert? These fetishized trusses are suggestive without didacticism. Full of innuendo and conjuring up many things at once––a figure, a sexual act, an experiment, restraint, a limp cock or just rope––Aguhar’s rope works signal that this promising young artist is taking risks and learning to trust the viewer more. For now, these traits seem to come more potently in three dimensions.

Chelsea Beck is a curatorial assistant at the Menil Collection, Houston.

This exhibition is on view through March 12, 2011.

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