featured gallery for January 2017

Blue Bathroom Blues Set for Frederick Weston

I went to New York City last weekend – the furthest I’ve been from Chicago since 2014. It was a short trip; fortunately, on Saturday afternoon I had an opportunity to visit Frederick Weston at his home

Fred lives in a big apartment block in Chelsea, a nice place on a high floor – with a view of the Empire State Building. He says it’s his first proper apartment since moving to New York to get involved in art and fashion worlds around 1992 – he’s mostly lived in SROs. I get the impression that a developer forced Fred out of his last room, and he ended up with this place, a good outcome.

The first thing I noticed about Fred’s place is how full it is. It must have been a lot in one room. Don’t get me wrong, his apartment isn’t cluttered or messy: everything is very organized. In the living room, one whole wall is stacked side-to-side, floor-to-ceiling with white banker’s boxes, each neatly labeled in black Sharpie: belts, hats, resentment, and so on. Clothing racks line the other walls, each elegantly draped with a real cowhide. For most of our visit, we sat on the room’s only furniture, two armchairs made from moving boxes – surprisingly comfortable with black satin slipcovers and positioned right in front of that Chrysler Building view.

You remember how unusual we found it that Fred couldn’t find so many of the Blue Bathroom Blues collages we requested from Visual AIDS’ website? It’s definitely not because he’s disorganized – I mentioned his storage system. He made the Blue Bathroom Blues collages to be photographed for a slide show projected alongside his recitation of poetry at – I think – the Neuberger Museum, around 2000. He still has the slides, and he showed me some of the poetry.[i]

It’s always been my impression that academic people are too liberal with the word “archive.” Fred’s saving things he can use and re-use – useful is the term he’s flexible with – but I don’t think he’s considering what might come in handy for a future grad thesis. Not to say that Fred’s indifferent to posterity, just that his attitude has more to do with tomorrow – the life he leads in the world he occupies – than someone else’s big ideas about art.

That’s something I missed when I wrote the wall labels for the two Blue Bathroom Blues collages we exhibited, the ones that haven’t changed state yet (and probably won’t, now that they’re framed). I fell into interpretation (theme) as an approach to the collages, as though they were the still points and I the vector (exactly wrong).[ii] And worse, I used words to push body and spirit apart. Fred doesn’t do that – just read the poem.

Fred came to New York from Detroit. He showed me a background he’s exploring for some new collages, a wood grain patterned contact paper that reminds him of the knotty pine paneling in his childhood home. He studied graphic and fashion design at a college back in Michigan. His collages started out as sample and swatch boards, another kind of artwork that’s got an on-the-way feel. Fashion – insofar as it invites looks, creates looks – is really important to Fred. He made a bunch of photos with handsome young men by helping them assemble looks from his massive clothing collection – an outfit is a collage – then photographing them modeling the results. It was sexy, and also a way of controlling his clutter: the boys got to keep the outfits. Of course, you’ve got to have a photo of the blank canvas (that’s the upper right hand corner of Barry 144).

Fred loves men, beautiful men. The way he works with hot guys isn’t gross. He understands in a bones-deep way eroticism’s connection to history, where pain (history) touches pleasure (eroticism). It’s too much to get into here, but let’s talk about the series Nobly Nude some time.

The Blue Bathroom Blues started out as what you’d call an installation. He did several of those with the Polaroids at a Times Square bar he worked at in the 1990s, a place memorialized in Bruce Benderson’s User. All that’s gone now. It was an arrangement of blue bathroom things on a city street, bottles and jars on the sidewalk and pictures on an adjacent wall. Naturally the installation changed every day, people enjoyed and protected it, right there on the street, private stuff on a city street, just like happens all the time…


[i]

He put the paper crown on his proceedings / And to the bowels bounty in the bowl beneath him / He gave his best flush / My anger was explosive / My weapon would be his nakedness I know / The water was talking, talking, talking (talking, talking…) / Everything was gone in a gesture.

[ii]

“Fredrick Weston’s tightly composed collages subject the leftovers of an HIV-positive person’s daily discipline of self-care – Q-Tip wrappers, Norvir (an HIV protease inhibitor) boxes and other pharmaceutical containers – to a severe formal order, transforming what would otherwise be wastepaper into abstract arrangements that rival the most accomplished paintings of the Modern movement. In this way, Weston’s collages transform evidence of a tedious and unwelcome habit – self-administration of the daily HIV-inhibiting ‘drug cocktail’ – into decorative, pleasurable, life-affirming works of art.” –Wall label (written by John Neff) for Art AIDS America exhibition, traveling iteration at Chicago’s Alphawood Foundation