David Antonio Cruz
March 29 — April 28, 2018
Thursday, March 29th | 6-9PM
Gildar Gallery is pleased to present Strange Looks, a group exhibition turning its eye towards the unstable nature of the gaze. Featuring nine artists, the included artworks stage different approaches to representing the body aware of being on display. Elusiveness, allure and confrontation intersect in these complicated relationships between figures and onlookers. Lifting its title from the opening act of the play Salomé by Oscar Wilde, the exhibition draws a contemporary thread from this early modern reference to the power of seeing and being seen.
Salomé reconfigures the scant Biblical account of King Herod who offers his unnamed stepdaughter anything she desires within his kingdom after she performs for him the sultry Dance of the Seven Veils. Consulting with her scorned mother Herodias, the princess chooses as her reward the head of the king's prized captive, John the Baptist, presented on a silver platter. Wilde shifted the perspective of this brief yet unnerving story with the historically secondary role of the princess, now identified as Salomé, taking center stage.
Obsessed with the chaste body of John the Baptist, Salomé leverages visual access to her own body in order to possess his. In her fluidity as a "looker" the princess holds both compromised and empowered positions as she pursues the object of her desire. Reconstituting traditional roles, people and symbols through overt actions and subtle double-meanings, Wilde elevated the play from a disturbing character study into a metanarrative on the troubled act of looking itself. In doing so, he pulled the stitching out from long-held assumptions about object and subject, masculinity and femininity, and power and desire that are still unraveling today. Premiered in France in 1896, the play’s reception in England helped emphasize its premise that looking is dangerous business when it stirred censors to ban its production.
Over 120 years since this radical debut, an expanded awareness of the gaze stretches well beyond man to woman and woman to man. Rather than fitting into fixed roles, the figures in Strange Looks assume volatile positions along the spectrum of how they look — both what they appear like to others, and how they peer out beyond themselves. Like the Dance of the Seven Veils, the striptease serves as a fitting metaphor for these self-conscious performers — at times visually seductive, at others resisting visibility. Neither wholly accessible, nor completely unavailable, these figures on display fluctuate between strategies of representation from camouflage to exhibitionism, delicate illusion to frank gesture, abstracted contortion to highly rendered posturing — whatever it takes to affect strange looks.