‘How Will I Know’ preview at the Whitney; Salman Toor,

Oh look, people are still putting on shows and curating exhibits in the real world? Who knew?

“Can’t talk right now, I’m at the museum”- ‘Sleeping Boy’, oil on panel

I recently attended a press preview via zoom for an exhibit of the work of Salman Toor, opened in November at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Here’s the exhibit introduction:

Joining sketchlike immediacy with disarming detail, Salman Toor (b. 1983) expands the tradition of figurative painting to create intimate views of young, queer Brown men in New York and South Asia. Toor—who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, and primarily lives and works in New York—considers the figures he paints to be fictional versions of himself and his friends. He portrays them with empathy to counter the judgments he feels are often imposed on them by society. Art-historical allusions—notably to post-Renaissance European and modern Pakistani and Indian painting—feature throughout the artist’s work, endowing his experiential narratives with elements of fantasy. Toor’s nuanced color palette adds emotion and drama to dreamy vignettes in which characters dance in cramped apartments, take selfies, play with puppies, and style their friends’ hair. Several somber works also highlight moments that convey nostalgia and alienation. One such painting depicts a morose family gathering; in others, forlorn men stand with their belongings on display for the scrutiny of immigration officers. Situated within a queer, diasporic community, Toor’s paintings evocatively consider how vulnerability manifests itself in public and private life.

‘Wait, your dog has been tested for COVID right?’- Puppy Play Date, oil on panel

I don’t know what’s sadder than a virtual museum tour. Except perhaps, the lack of confidence I have in the grammar of ‘sadder’. More sad? Both versions sound off.

And that is how it felt for me seeing even the digital version of a few of Toor’s works. Not the nightlife ones, the green atmospheric ones that are richly saturated and playful. They aren’t quite realistic but are relatable in the presentation of how people people look, act, dance, flirt. It’s the opposite of an instagram filter, which is funny given his inclusion of modern technology within the paintings.

‘Do these brushstrokes make my butt look big?’ – Bedroom Boy, oil on canvas

The most striking painting to me was one of a brown-skinned man trying to pass through airport customs. It was mostly white, the central figure painted in browns and reds. The eyes of the figure were lowered, simulating composure, shame, or humility, a juxtaposition to the warm tones used. There was an uncomfortable match in the colorful expression of the person contained in a much more stoic posture than the colors would suggest.

While I personally experience inner rage every time I go through the security check at an airport, I do not feel unjustly targeted. Except for that one time I’m pretty sure a guard used ‘random selection’ as an excuse to feel me up. This is what power looks like in our society, a metal detector, a government uniform, and wandering gloved hands that you aren’t allowed to protest.

During the virtual tour, one of the Whitney employees described the paintings as containing ‘effortless grace’.

I do not know if ‘more sad’ or ‘sadder’ is correct in my sentence, but I do know ‘effortless grace’ is not a fitting description for this work. I personally liked what I saw significantly more for the lack of it.

None of the ‘Security’ images were included in the press packet, so you’ll have to actually go to the musuem to see them. Perhaps I’ll see you there. Who knows.

“How Will I Know”- open until April 4, 2021

Quarantining together! – ‘The Arrival’, oil on panel

Hey! remember when a Press Tour included free coffee and actually seeing the whole exhibit?

Musical instruments that play by themselves, jazz, and art: Jason Moran at the Whitney

The only version of Transcendentalism I have ever liked: Agnes Pelton at the Whitney

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