New York’s Iteration of the Cruising Pavilion Charts an Architecture of Queerness
The Lower East Side exhibition closes April 7 before being reprised in Stockholm this fall.
In his visionary book Cruising Utopia, the late queer theorist and cultural critic José Esteban Muñoz wrote: “We must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds…. The queer aesthetic frequently contains blueprints and schemata of a forward-dawning futurity.” Muñoz was maybe writing metaphorically, but curators Pierre-Alexandre Mateos, Rasmus Myrup, Octave Perrault, and Charles Teyssou are hard at work proving him literally correct. Their show Cruising Pavilion, New York at the Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38—the second in a triptych the group is assembling after appearing at last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale—is a dimly lit but sharp-eyed overview of the relationship between New York City’s architecture and sexual activity, both historical and proposed. This iteration is open through April 7; the show’s final act will take place in the fall at ArkDes in Stockholm.
I met Myrup on the street in front of the gallery’s blacked-out façade and its Adult Content warning sign. “Cruising is about potentiality,” Myrup said. Perrault soon joined in. “Cruising is a way of measuring the health of a city. If there is cruising, there is social life.” Homophobia—or at least the fear of homosexual acts—can be thought of as a force behind both the panopticon and open-plan living: spaces in which there is no room to hide the queerness that must be hidden. Cruising, then, is a transformation of space into something queer, whether consummated or not. It’s an act of faith that there’s someone out there.
We push inside. Myrup has violated the standard white box with a few discrete spaces, including a back room with a fog machine and open bottles of poppers diffusing and decanting. The walls are slicked by LEDs that coat wanderers in flattering, if hazy, purples. Perrault suggests getting up close to view what’s on offer: first, architectural drawings of Horace Gifford’s Fire Island houses, which famously split the difference between the Barcelona Pavilion and a Roman orgy pit. A small screen nearby shows Peter de Rome’s 1971 film Fire Island Kids. Call it a house tour, maybe, of “man-on-man caves,” quips Myrup.
Another few steps and Kayode Ojo’s Wassily, Interrupted (Lucas, James) comes up, a B3 chair dressed in black sequins and perched on “stripper heels” of clear plastic boxes, with a modified, suggestive tubular frame. It’s more Bettie Page than Breuer, but then wasn’t so much of Modernism about restraint? Around a slight corner, further examples of feminist fantasies come alive. A spread from the first issue of the LGBT magazine Out—called Lesbian Xanadu— is an absolute treasure. Created by Ann Krsul, Amy Cappellazzo, Alexis Roworth, and Sarah Drake, it offers up the blueprints for a fantastic sex palace by and for women, stuffed with undulating cushioned floors, waterfalls, game rooms, and tons of natural light. Estado Real VII, Victoria Colmegna’s oil-and-glitter-on-steel model of a proposed space for women and nonbinary funseekers, is a welcome partner. Both are downright airy, almost whimsically spiraling forms.
Then we move through a tight hallway guarded on each side by Philipp Timischl’s draggy self-portraits, barely enough room not to touch each other. The back room has a platform to see and be seen while examining the climax of the show: blueprints of the Saint, gay New York’s real-life disco pleasuredome felled by AIDS and heterosexual looky-loos. It still looks like the future. But meanwhile, Myrup tells me of a conversation with another artist in the show, Maud Escudié. “Her idea is no walls, just fabric. No one can trap you anywhere.” It’s a reminder that those who live daily with the potential of abduction and rape might be turned on by worlds far different than the private-cum-public spaces men stalk in their search for connection, the bathroom stalls and hidden corners, the steamy shadowy saunas. “For her, it’s about hide and seek.” Cities are changing what we think of as private; queers are now sometimes, somewheres, allowed different avenues of living. We keep building. But our new worlds must be different.
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