New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 25 SUMMER ISSUE AUGUST 2012 July 31 to September 4, 2012

Gao Yuan and Dimitris Yeros
Colors of Passion
R. Wayne Parsons
Untitled (Woman with book) by Gao Yuan. Source: throckmorton-nyc.com
Gao Yuan, "Untitled (Woman with book)" 2011

“Colors of Passion” is an exhibition of beautiful color photographs of nudes by two artists, Gao Yuan of China and Dimitris Yeros from Greece. The bulk of the work (25 out of 29 on display) is by Mr. Yeros, while Ms. Gao’s striking images are from an emerging series, perhaps still in its early stages. But it’s clear why they are shown together. Both work in the tradition of the nude as exemplar of perfection, focusing on young, virtually perfect examples of the human form. There are no sags, bulges or blemishes to be seen here.

Gao’s models are shown reclining on a couch or bed, a pose popularized by such renaissance artists as Giorgione and Titian and remaining in favor with later painters (Goya, Manet, etc.) as well as photographers. The backdrops are obviously photoshopped-in cityscapes and landscapes, some of which are slightly unsettling with their dark tones and depictions of decay. The use of nude Asian women further distances Western viewers culturally from these models, adding to the temptation to reify them as objects of erotic satisfaction for the male gaze. How Asian viewers react to this melding of cultures is an interesting question.

Ms. Gao’s most interesting image shows the model reclining on a day bed before a backdrop of a partially collapsed masonry wall and scattered bricks. She is holding an open book she was presumably reading before being interrupted, as it were, by us, the viewers. Close inspection reveals it to be not just any book, but the Bible. However, she is quizzically gazing at us, not the book, suggesting that the Bible would be quickly set aside if a better offer were forthcoming. She does not fit the stereotype of an especially pious believer, given that she is posed in the nude and has a stud in her pierced lower lip.

Untitled (Woman with Rooster) by Demitris Yeros. Source: throckmorton-nyc.com
Demitris Yeros, "Untitled (Woman with Rooster)"

In earlier periods the use of Christian symbolism was straightforward and possessed an obvious message. But that has changed, and we cannot be sure if incorporation of a heavy-duty symbol such as the Bible is meant to be taken seriously, ironically, or as something else altogether. Is this photograph to be interpreted as a comment on the position of Christianity in present day China (tightly controlled)? Is it an example of artistic overreach with the artist indiscriminately throwing a plethora of things into the mix in the hope that something will resonate, or is it a carefully conceived composition that successfully elevates the work to the level of profundity? I think we have to defer judgment until this interesting series is completed before we can answer this question.

Mr. Yeros relies on animals to up our level of interest in his imagery. (The four images without such props – photos of one or two nude figures positioned, usually running, in landscapes – are among the least successful in the series.) Models are posed in close relation with animals said to be their pets, and there is a good deal of apparent inter-species interplay in these photographs. Most frequently the models are cradling the animals in their arms. In general these images are quite striking and immediately gain our attention. The juxtaposition of cute ‘n cuddly (a dog, rabbits, a baby goat, a white cat, a small monkey) with the naked human body is enticing in an old-fashioned, comforting way. Yet it is also jarring. The innocence of the animals contrasts not only with the innocence of the human form, but also with the charged eroticism that nudity invariably suggests. My favorite in this series depicts a nude woman seated at a small table on which a white rooster is perched. It’s not at all clear why in the real world a draped table would be a forum for both a nude woman and a rooster, but a rational explanation of this engrossing image is beside the point, so successful is it.

There are a few duds. Two use artificial butterflies attached to the rear of the male model (one on the back of the head, two on shoulder blades.) These photos just seem too artificial and silly to be taken seriously.

Using a snake as a prop (no apples, though) is a device common to both photographers. Mr. Yeros’s obvious point of reference is the Fall, though it cannot be said that his use of this motif in any way adds to or expands the tradition. Since in the Gao image the snake’s mouth is just above the breast, the allusion is presumably to the Cleopatra legend, though here again our relationship to this bit of classical mythologizing is not appreciably enhanced by this image.

An annoying aspect of both series is their excessive prudishness. Mr. Yeros, especially, almost invariably crops images just above the pubic area. The days when Edward Weston could not send photographs showing pubic hair through the U.S. mail without fear of arrest are long gone. One wishes these photographers would follow the greater candor and honesty of artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Lee Friedlander and stop beating around the bush.

Gao Yuan and Dimitris Yeros
Colors of Passion


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Saturday, September 8, 2012
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