Jimmy DeSana: Submission is the first museum survey of work by a significant yet overlooked figure in the histories of photography, New York City, and LGBTQ artists. From his time photographing suburban landscapes in Atlanta, Georgia, to his role in the New York punk scenes, Jimmy DeSana (American, 1949–1990) conveyed the radical spirit of his era through an irreverent critique of the American Dream and its images. The exhibition traces his brief yet prolific career through nearly two hundred works on view (some for the first time) and over twenty years that bridged mail-art networks, New York’s 1970s and ’80s subcultures, the illuminating image-play of the “Pictures Generation,” and various responses to HIV/AIDS.
As part of punk aesthetics and its symbolic forms of resistance, DeSana and his peers sought to forge art communities outside of official institutions. The exhibition showcases his extensive involvement in zines, artist collectives, performance art, experimental film, and club culture. In his major series—101 Nudes (1972), Submission (1977–79), and Suburban (1979–84)—DeSana photographed himself and friends (often nude and faceless) in and around bland suburban homes, creating an interplay among sexual liberation, queer aesthetics, and consumerist conformity. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, DeSana was heavily involved in New York’s punk and No Wave scenes and photographed prominent creatives for album covers and alternative publications. This exhibition will be the first to feature his portraits of art and music luminaries such as Kathy Acker, Laurie Anderson, Kenneth Anger, Patti Astor, David Byrne, John Giorno, Debbie Harry, and Richard Hell. Accompanying these works are DeSana’s more abstract efforts from the late 1980s, after he contracted HIV, that show an artist who resisted dominant narratives about the body and sexuality in the early years of the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Jimmy DeSana: Submission is curated by Drew Sawyer, Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Curator of Photography, Brooklyn Museum