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Tabboo! Gives You Fever

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Not gay art gives you ennui; bring a brolly

Stephen Tashjian—painter, illustrator, and infamous East Village drag performance legend Tabboo!—is doing it her way at the Paul Kasmin Gallery annex space. As part of the larger “the Name of this show is Not Gay Art” exhibition curated by photographer Jack Pierson, Tashjian, never the reticent one, crosses all of the lines turning his space into a combination gallery, performance installation, thrift shop, tenement loft that Tabboo! inhabits on a near daily basis.

The lone painter among the Boston Museum School photograph­ers—Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, Jack Pierson, and Mark Morrisroe—Tashjian is of old school East Village stock having danced on the bar at the Pyramid, performed on the stages of Wigstock, and been documented in the New Museum’s “East Village Show” and NYU/Grey Art Gallery’s “Downtown Show.” At the Kasmin annex, treasures abound among the performance detritus from documents of Alphabet City murals, illustrations for Dee-Lite’s World Clique, Quentin Crisp, Art Forum, a book of poetry with Vincent Katz a rainbow glitter portrait of Sylvester, and the Marsha P. Johnson/Sylvia Rivera “Bricks” from Stonewall—presented on a Judy Garland plinth, naturally.

A new body of paintings on raw linen includes a number of Divas—Nina Simone, Joan Crawford, and Roberta Flack—and some beautiful painted still lifes. Particular standouts are Tashjian’s full-length, nude self-portrait, paintings of coconuts and limes, and cantaloupes that can’t elope.

If you are lucky enough to come for a viewing when Tabboo! is in the space you are in for treat and a treatment as well. Tabboo! has all of the dish going way, way back and she tells all. Be sure to ask her about the beautiful black glitter Dionne Warwick portrait “Spin-Listen-Dig” and the subject’s relationship to Marlene Dietrich. Besides sit down/stand up conversations with gallery goers around the orange plush loveseat and blue hydrangeas, Tashjian often engages in sing-a-longs with Dolly and Maria Callas, political dissections of the current administration, and radical faerie runway parades. Intimidating and over the top, sure; but also exhilarating, and in the end alive and rather thrilling that he puts himself so far out there.

Jack Pierson’s larger curated show at the main gallery hosts lots of really fun LGBT and LGBT friendly artists with a supposedly post-label stance that “Gay Art,” whatever or whoever that is, is now passé; that “we”—formerly known as the LGBT community—are so far out that “we” virtually are the culture. Don’t you just love it when the style council decides that something is over—for everyone. “Sisterwoman, did you know that you are now mainstream—that’s right girl—yeah, Jack Pierson said so.” But, even with work from the deeply closeted Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and James Brown hung amongst family—Andy, Keith, Mapplethorpe, Indiana, Hartley, and Louise Fishman—for the first time, I’m not buying the dopey premise of this show.

A short walk amongst the current shows in the Chelsea galleries reveals the ugly side of the porn/fashi­on/celebri­ty/art axis. You’ll be amazed at the number of straight boy artists involved with “sexy girl urinating” as a subject matter. Take an umbrella; it will get a lot of use. Degradation, frat boy idiocy, and misogynist heterosexism tends to rule the galleries right now, and just personally, I have felt cleaner coming out of the Westside Club. I sure hope “we, as a community”—whatever or whoever that is—aren’t really responsible for this state of affairs.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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