Friday night's opening for Leo Herrera's "Sex and Icons" show at Magnet, followed by the reception party at The Transfer, was certainly the weekend's see and be seen event for the alternaqueer crowd, where there were more well put-together boys with complicated coifs than I have seen out in Clubland for a very long time. And though the show did not quite match my expectations , and the scenester aspect of the party tended to overpower my perceptions of its other elements, both confirmed for me that there is a younger gay underground art and music scene that is well on its way to re-defining the San Francisco club experience, with artists like Herrera providing the iconography, and DJs like Pee Play, Jason Kendig, Kenvusion, and Robot Hustle, along with their many associates, providing its essential heartbeat.
Leo Herrera's photos bring to mind Pierre et Gilles and David LaChapelle on first glance. Like the images of those photographers, Herrera's seem to come from a space inhabited by fables and mystical creatures, and he shares with them an anti-naturalistic aesthetic - unlike Pierre et Gilles, however, his images are not the supporting material for painterly re-workings, nor, like LaChappelle, does he work with the direct qualities of light. Instead, Herrera's muse is Photoshop, and you have the sense of hours spent trying to get just the right level of color saturation, or using filters to manipulate specific layers. Herrera has a terrific visual sense for both color and composition, and what was perhaps most notable about all his images was the consistency of the vision that ran through them, from work that was produced for commercial purposes, up through his faux porn posters, to his more abstract moments, such as the straight-on contemplation of a poppers bottle and a bumper, or, perhaps the most memorable image of the show, a large, metal bracelet-adorned dildo with very convincing pre-cum courtesy of a hot glue gun.
As the title of the show makes clear, Herrera is interested in the iconic aspect of his images, their ability to encapsulate a quality that transcends their specific nature and reveals their connection to a universal concept. In light of this, I thought it interesting that so many of the images had a commercial context, such as the image of Peaches Christ as a towering tranny monster that was used to promote her Midnight Mass shows, or the porn posters. In many ways, the work of a commercial photographer is to create iconic imagery by investing the ordinary with a supernatural or super-real quality. This was what I saw as the craft in Herrera's work, and the rationale for his image manipulations: the imposition, by the photographer, of meaning onto things that are ordinarily mundane, like a brown poppers bottle, or a dildo that you could pick up anywhere in the Castro. However, if Herrera's images were successful at imbuing meaning into objects that ordinarily had none, I thought it was less successful when contemplating objects that already had the capacity to speak for themselves. One of the images I was most curious to see, for example, was of Harvey Milk's suit that he wore the night he was assassinated. Herrera's treament was to crop the composition very tightly, so that the form of the shirt was reduced to just the front panels, and to put a light behind it that glowed through the material like an ethereal heart. But, did Harvey Milk's shirt need to be aestheticized to this degree to make it speak as an iconic object, did it really need Herrera's artistic intervention to have a voice? In looking at this photograph, and of Daddy Alan Selby's leather hat perched on top of someone else's head, I wished Herrera had taken an approach more out of straight photography, giving the objects the ability to simply be what they were, which, to me, would have placed them more in the realm of the iconic than an aesthetic interpretation that was, for me, too literal-minded. My final thought at the show was that Herrera has both an aesthetic vision and the skills to execute it, but perhaps needs to spend more time thinking about what he is revealing rather than what he is creating.
The reception at the Transfer was probably the most fabulous event I've attended in a while - disco balls threw diamond spots of light all through the bar, posters and proof sheets were suspended on lines along the walls, they even moved the damn pool table out of the way. Kids were crowding in on the heels of the Magnet show closing, and DJs Ken Vulsion and Robot Hustle were setting a fun, easy-going vibe. The tracks tended toward electro and a little bit retro, and though I was personally in the mood for something a bit harder and a little more techno, I had no real complaints. Well, aside from the fact that I still can't get the hang of the Transfer's space - even after clearing the pool table and moving the tables and chairs into its previous space the dance floor seemed more like a way station on the route to the bathrooms, with the bar serving as the soul for that space. The boyfriend and I eventually headed off to Lights Down Low at 222 Hyde, since we were in more of a mood to dance than to hang out and add our own iconography to the scene, but it seemed pretty clear to me that this was ground zero for the new clique of kids who will be defining the gay club scene for their generation, and I will be happy to check out their events and chart their progress.