One of the most memorable images from the 2002 Whitney Biennial—and perhaps from any of the Whitney’s recent biennials—was AA Bronson’s Felix, June 5, 1994 (1994/99), a massive and unblinking postmortem portrait of Felix Partz. Along with Jorge Zontal, the three artists worked symbiotically as the media- and identity-tweaking collaborative General Idea, until both Partz and Zontal died from AIDS-related illnesses in 1994. The first image that greets visitors at John Connelly Presents is of a man—Bronson’s spouse—cradling his newborn daughter. Featuring a similarly recumbent figure and a patterned fabric that echoes the colors of the pillows supporting Partz’s cadaver in the earlier work, Anna and Mark, February 3, 2001 (2001-2) can’t help but recall Bronson’s deathbed portrait of Partz. In turn, it invokes the larger dynamic between life and death informing much of Bronson’s art after General Idea.
Bronson has spoken about how difficult it was to conceive of himself as a solo artist, and even as a separate individual, after 25 years of intimate collaboration with Partz and Zontal. His current exhibition records this still-ongoing process. In a series of self-portraits stretching from the present back to the late ’60s, Bronson photographically fragments and refracts his image with glass globes, mirrors, costumes, props, and digital manipulation. But collaboration also remains primary to his work. The exhibition’s centerpiece is an installation created with Terence Koh—a replica, produced both full-size and in miniature, of two cubicles linked by a glory hole.
The “young shamans” in the show’s title are nine mostly international queer artists. Their works—drawings, videos, and sculpture—are installed in a side gallery oriented around a shrine-like tent that Bronson made with Scott Treleaven, while Joseph Beuys partly serves as the room’s symbolic father. Item Idem’s ceremonial coat fashioned from rubber, tar, and Louis Vuitton bags is dedicated to the German artist; beneath a postcard inscribed by Beuys, Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa’s video combines footage of his father singing a folk song and the artist sliding a carrot into his own ass. Like Bronson, Beuys sought a relationship between art and healing, but the intermittent megalomania of Beuys’s claims instigates here a provocative blend of homage and parody.