“I don’t really think of that work as erotic. I think of the body almost as an object.”
—Jimmy DeSana on his series Suburban (1979–84)
The Queer photographer Jimmy DeSana worked in New York from 1973 until his premature death from AIDS-related illness in 1990. No wave music, club culture, performance art, the Pictures Generation, mail art: not only was DeSana a prominent figure in these scenes, he also became a chronicler of Queer New York subculture in the 1970s and 1980s through his photographs.
Despite his recognition in artist circles during his lifetime, DeSana’s work was long overlooked. It was only last year that the Brooklyn Museum in New York staged his first solo museum exhibition under the title Submission. DeSana’s first institutional show in Germany will open at KW in Berlin in July 2024.
Meyer Riegger presents 53 works from all phases of his brief but prolific career. With a series of fifty-six black-and-white lithographs titled 101 Nudes, DeSana obtained a degree in art from Georgia State University in 1972; he initially studied painting, before turning to photography in his second semester. This graduation project already highlights the themes that would preoccupy DeSana throughout his oeuvre, and which, until his AIDS diagnosis in 1985, he would regard mostly with humour: the body, sex, objectification and submission – almost always in a domestic setting.
After DeSana received his AIDS diagnosis in 1985 and became progressively weaker, he restricted his subject matter but continued to work obsessively: he now focused on almost abstract images of objects such as candlesticks, as well as human faces. As curator Elisabeth Sussman writes in her essay “Jimmy DeSana: Erotic Miniaturist”, the 1970s were the last decade in which erotic hedonism was not associated with the danger of infection – an unknowledge that signified great freedom for the Queer scene, but was also constantly being challenged or even made impossible by social exclusion and hostilities, up to and including violent police attacks, a threat faced by gay men like DeSana at the time. DeSana’s oeuvre is an aesthetically captivating negotiation of the subversive power of the Queer body between the poles of freedom and restriction, life and death.
Jimmy DeSana (1949, Detroit–1990, New York)
Recent solo and two-person exhibitions include the retrospective Submission at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2023; The Sodomite Invasion: Experimentation, Politics and Sexuality in the work of Jimmy DeSana and Marlon T. Riggs, Griffin Art Projects, Vancouver, 2020; and Remainders, Pioneer Works, New York, 2016. DeSana’s work can be found in numerous public collections including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.