Falling in Love With Love, and Other Critical Dilemmas

Every once in a while, but much more often than I'd expect, I see a show so attuned to my sensibility that it might have been made just for me. Paul P. at Daniel Reich. Matthias Vriens at the Project. Steve Wolfe at Luhring Augustine. As thrilling as this is, it can also be a little disconcerting: How do I distinguish between my judgment and my taste? When critical distance almost evaporates, is there anything left to say? You be the judge.

Prime case in point: David Armstrong's show at Matthew Marks (523 West 24th Street, through February 21), which centers around a long, free-standing wall, both sides of which he's covered with photos of unconventionally handsome, often intriguingly androgynous young men and a few women. Armstrong's portraits of friends, lovers, and willing models are unfashionably romantic—suffused with warmth, tenderness, and the softest, most flattering light. Though hardly artless, the best of them feel as personal as love letters, and they locate desire without ever attempting to pin it down and define it. Framed and hung along the gallery's rear wall, Armstrong's pictures of shirtless boys are lovely, but the central installation of 76 framed and unframed, color and black-and-white, casually juxtaposed and often overlapping images is so damn seductive, I give up on analysis and, like Armstrong, fall in love with love.

Collier Schorr's pictures of young wrestlers at 303 (525 West 22nd Street, through February 28) don't inspire the same sort of romantic longing, but her investigations of masculinity are never exactly clinical. "I'm interested in the life I would have had as a boy," she's said, so she looks at her subjects with a combination of undisguised curiosity and fierce intelligence that, even at its most straightforward, always seems revelatory. The sexiness in Schorr's pictures isn't incidental, and it's heightened here by contrasting glare and deep shadow that make her muscular, straining figures at once heroic and touchingly real. Schorr's work revolves around bigger issues than attraction, affection, and ravishing beauty, but she's smart enough to know that little things mean a lot.

 
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