Tongue very much in cheek, Calgary-born, now New York-based, painter Attila Richard Lukacs offered recent work, continuing his powerfully painted, affecting odyssey of gay life. The thirty-five-year-old Lukacs, who came to New York in 1996 after spending ten years in Berlin, gained notoriety early on in his career for his erotically uncompromising portrayal of rough boys. His subjects’ working class rage is treated with a sympathy that is homoerotically inclined, and so it is hard to tell whether his bare-chested young men constitute a political statement or an extended meditation on skinhead allure.
Additionally, the ghost of the German past inevitably accompanies Lukacs’ art, which forthrightly plays with images that, for many people, have associations with the neo-Nazi movement in Germany. It is a difficult thing to dehistoricize such imagery, and while Lukacs is at pains to downplay the flirtation with the far right and emphasizes his paintings’ erotic flair, it seems unavoidable that his work would be seen by some as ethically questionable.
Even though he claims to have thought it up while drunk, Lukacs appears to be addressing such criticism in the title of his show, “It’s Not About Schinkel, It’s About Schinken.” Schinkel is the name of the influential, classically inspired nineteenth-century German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and schinken is the German word for ham. It’s not an overinterpretation to see in the pun Lukacs’ refusal to associate himself with any grand Aryan scheme, as well as an insistence on the fleshy focus of his art.
Indeed, for Lukacs, flesh is the goal. His homosexuality is expressed through the powerful delineation of the male form, his affection for the male body profoundly evident in this show, which includes exquisitely finished paintings of young men with shaved heads and bare, muscular torsos; the striking Labours in Natural History (1997), an extraordinarily detailed, life-size wax sculpture of a bionic skinhead; and the inspired conceptual sculpture Casting for a Lost Track (1997), which, celebrating maleness in the abstract, comprises forty-eight pairs of Dr. Martens boots, placed in a packing crate with a transparent acrylic cover.
Above all else, Lukacs convinces by virtue of his technique, which is brilliantly confident in its meditation on male physicality. This was an extremely male show – no female figures existed in the many paintings and sculptures exhibited. For example, the large painting entitled The Fresh Air Front (1997) includes nine young men, standing and sitting against a heavily graffittied wall; their slightly menacing air is accentuated by Lukacs’ closely detailed portrayal of their bodies, their unclothed torsos in particular.
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