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DL: The Down Low in Contemporary Art
Published: October 24, 2003

Longwood Art Gallery @ HostosHostos Center for the Arts and Culture
450 Grand Concourse, near 149th Street, the Bronx

Through Nov. 15

Longwood Arts Gallery, housed for years in an old public school building in the Bronx, has dropped its S and relocated to Hostos College, where it will use the art gallery for its exhibitions. The move seems smart for both institutions and is bound to have a healthy effect on the neighborhood, which has begun to attract young artists and new galleries.

The first Longwood exhibition, ''DL: The Down Low in Contemporary Art,'' strikes a scrappy, enterprising note by addressing a subject the art world has pretty much overlooked: the African-American and Latino gay subculture referred to as the ''down low.'' Organized by Edwin Ramoran, director of Longwood, the show includes familiar names -- Glenn Ligon, Kori Newkirk, Susan Smith-Pinelo -- but is notable for introducing a host of new ones.

Enrique Cruz, known primarily for his gay porn films, makes an art gallery debut with clips of dramatized encounters that combine gangsta machismo with same-sex eroticism in subtle ways. In fact, hip-hop's macho ethos has done its part to keep homosexuality under wraps, and the sense of identities in hiding seems to underlie Karlos Carcamo's nearly invisible self-portraits, Jorge Veras's elusively gender-bending photographs and Derek Jackson's taped interviews with men cruising city parks. The price of secrecy is an implicit message of a series of lively public service videos on H.I.V. and AIDS by Luna Luis Ortiz and Shawn Atkins, and in off-site street painting by Steed Taylor, executed several blocks from Hostos in a cruising area.

Over all, though, the atmosphere is open, even celebratory, whether in Ivan Monforte's looped video of two men endlessly kissing; in sexy greeting cards designed by Richard L. Mack, who goes under the name Binga; in Alex Donis's bright painting of two boys embracing on the basketball court; and in Mr. Jackson's photographs of gay and lesbian domesticity.

The filmmaker Wolfgang Busch looks at transsexual club life, focusing on a scintillating performer named Octavia St. Laurent Manolo Blahnik. And the fluid nature of both gender and race is the theme of Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa's video, ''Inverted Minstrel,'' and a sculpture by Terence Koh, a Los Angeles artist formerly known as asianpunkboy. Mr. Koh's piece, consisting of two identical figures of Michael Jackson standing face to face as if for a showdown, is cast in dark chocolate that turns pale as it ages.
Collage paintings by Ricardo Francis and a floor piece by an artist named e-mael are hard to categorize thematically and are intriguing for that reason, as is a written exhibition statement by the playwright Ricardo A. Bracho, which combines activist polemic with shrewd advice on how to make the down low work for you. The mainstream art world, where African-American and Latino faces are conspicuously absent from the latest list of critical darlings, should do itself a favor and listen up.


New York Times

Exhibition review "DL: The Down Low in Contemporary Art" by Holland Cotter.