Rubén Esparza combines the skills of a multi-media artist and the insight of a gifted curator to synergize intensely cross-referential artworks. Queer AIDS tropes, phallocentrism, and bodily fluids become markers of LGBTQ+ culture from the early ’90s to the contemporary Trumpian zeitgeist.
GLoves (Blood Drive), a 1995 triptych, epitomizes many themes of Esparza’s oeuvre. The artist, culturally imprinted by a Latinx heritage, moved to Los Angeles from Houston, after his lover died of AIDS. To memorialize the death and cope with grief, Esparza secured a phlebotomist and invited friends to donate blood that he then dripped onto brightly hued latex gloves. Uniting the conceptual with the visual makes for an arresting, colorful overlay to a disturbing piece of activist art, swirling sadness and AIDS anger together in the same mixed-media piece.
Digital Flux, series, 2015-18, and the clever 2019 protest portrait of POTUS – Goon, Con, Troll – are harvested from a collection of objet trouvé internet images. Esparza downloads the pictures and manipulates them with dot matrixes and grids. Sometimes he paints semen and swashes of Warholian colors onto the faces of his subjects as an extension of his print photomontages. Hand-cut and pasted-up porn magazine pages graphically homoeroticize whimsical adorations of the penis. These analog collages form the underpinning to his digital pastiches that employ complex computer manipulations to create an inventive layering. Coded into these handmade amalgamations is a commentary heralded by a blast of hard-core queer smut from another time; together they retrieve a culture vanquished by the internet age. Esparza revivifies print porn as he creates outrageously sexual erotica that gives homage to a vanished genre of gay civilization.
This exhibition of twenty of Ruben Esparza’s most potent pieces includes a survey of the artists, art influencers and scenesters who frequent TOM House, and who Esparza has photographed in a collection of Polaroids. The most sensational shot being a self-portrait…floating in a mason jar of urine.
–Phil Tarley, curator
Rubén Esparza (b.1962) is a Los Angeles artist and curator. His work is part of the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. Esparza is the founder and director of the Queer Biennial, an exhibition anchored in Los Angeles that surveys international queer and Latinx art. Grants and awards, include: Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles, National Endowment for the Arts, West Hollywood Arts, Tom of Finland Foundation, City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office.
Reception: Saturday, 7 to 10p
Opening night events include performances and happenings by: Oscar David Alvarez, Fleshpiece, Ridge Gallagher, Jon Vaz Gar, Jordan Michael Green, Jamison Karon, Marval A Rex, and Sheree Rose.
On view by appointment through 6th July.