Artist and FIT staff member Pacifico Silano re-photographs images from gay magazines of the 1970s and ’80s, and then assembles his photos into new, semi-abstract tableaux. One series includes a cloudy blue sky, a cowboy hat resting on a tree branch, and a naked man half obscured by an image of a lakeshore. Somehow, you can sense something sexual going on, just out of sight. The original photographs, many culled from former Whitney Museum curator Richard Marshall’s gay pornography collection at New York University’s Fales Library, were far more risqué when they appeared in publications like Blueboy and Honcho. In Silano’s rendering, bodies are missing or truncated, and their absence evokes an emotion he dubs “queer melancholy.” Reviewing his work in The New Yorker, critic Vince Aletti wrote, “Nearly every collaged image is torn and fragmentary, as if recovered from a past that’s still too painful to look at head on.” In November, the Museum of Modern Art acquired Silano’s image Cherry Lips for its permanent collection.
The absence referred to in Silano’s work addresses one in his life: His uncle died of AIDS in 1989, and the family never discussed this loss, or the fact that he was gay. In a blog post for Time magazine, Silano explained the inspiration: “I figured if I could know [my uncle], I might have a better sense of myself.” Occasionally, the artist takes a break from this theme. “It’s kind of heavy,” he acknowledges. One series decontextualizes found images of heartthrob John F. Kennedy Jr.
Silano has exhibited internationally, with shows in London and Moscow as well as stateside at the Bronx Museum and the NADA art fair in Miami. He’s won prestigious art fellowships, and outlets including The New York Times, Hyperallergic, and Artforum have covered his work. Meanwhile, he still has a day job as a technician in FIT’s Photography Department. He’s happy in this environment, he says: “I’m surrounded by artists.” And it keeps him humble: “Yes, my work just got collected by MoMA, but I still have to go fix an enlarger or mop up a spill.” The students also benefit from the proximity to a working artist. In 2020, he’ll be featured in a group show at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.