The 287 Spring gallery officially opened its doors in SoHo in September 2012. Only a month old, the gallery is generating a lot of publicity with its controversial exhibition Asylum. If this title calls to mind Erving Goffman’s famous sociological analysis of total institutions, think again.
Asylum is a series of photographs by a Russian photographer Alexander Kargaltsev. Mr. Kargaltsev took pictures of young gay men who fled Russia where government authorities, like managers of any self-respecting total institution, bully homosexuals into submission and deny them rights of self-expression. Models in Alexander’s photographs are captured in Central Park and on the New York City rooftops standing tall and staring at the camera while wearing nothing but bare skin.
Before the hustle and bustle of the official gallery opening begins, I ask Mr. Kargaltsev why the models in his photographs are nude. He responds that young men in the pictures “shed old garb and come out of the closet they have been living in for years.” I want to know how Alexander’s models handled being photographed in New York City public places. He says that while some felt a degree of nervousness, others handled the task well. In the end of the day, making a political statement and attracting attention by appearing naked requires boldness and determination. Alexander believes that “people absorb culture through visual mediums” and his project will draw public attention to the plight of the Russian sexual minorities.
I talk with Ivan Savvine, a curator at 287 Spring and the organizer of the show. Mr. Savvine left Russia in 2004. In the U.S. he worked at a “firm that handled immigration and asylum cases.” Ivan was approached by Alexander and asked to participate in his project as a model, but refused due to his boyfriend’s objections. Instead, Ivan, who holds an MFA from Syracuse University, decided to help Alexander’s photographs get publicity by displaying them at his gallery. Ivan believes that Asylum can “inform young gay men that there is a chance to get asylum” and that they don’t have to put up with taunting and bullying by society they live in.
Ivan’s and Alexander’s wish for publicity came true on the opening night. New York Times and Huffington Post, to name a few, interviewed Mr. Kargaltsev. George Gellis, an attorney and friend of the 287 Spring owner, expected representatives of Marriage Equality and other non-profits to attend the opening night. Mr. Gellis called the show a “political act that is connected to the processes that are happening in Russia.”
The opening show was a success. More than 300 people showed up to look at the photographs. Attendants were standing in clusters, laughing and speaking in Russian and English. Outfits ranged from bespoke pinstripe business suits, like Mr. Gellis’s, to the eccentric outfits, like a Russian guest Stephan’s. He sported a dress Russian military uniform and completed it with polished dress shoes. Wine was flowing, and ambient music by Tchaikovsky (very fitting leitmotif for the occasion!) completed the atmosphere.
There was one print missing from the gallery wall. In its place there was a sign:
“This work been removed from the exhibition at the request of Mr. Kargaltsev’s models who posed for this portrait.
They are afraid that the publicity this project has received may lead to persecution of their family members in Russia by the government officials.” The models decided to take the print down a night before the show.
A visitor who identifies himself as homosexual man from Cuba said: “It is really sad that someone has to take the picture down because of the fear for the family.” He thinks “the public needs to be educated to stop with the hatred.”
Asylum is on exhibit for three days. Ivan Savvin explains that the gallery has a busy schedule. 287 Spring is a creative space for artists to showcase their work, be it photography, paintings, theater, sculpture, or performing art. The gallery also offers painting classes for beginners and advanced students. For more information about events at 287 Spring, visit their website.
Asylum is on exhibit Friday, October 26 2012 through Sunday, October 28, 2012.
Prints are for sale. Inquire for the price list at the gallery.
287 SpringArt Gallery and Performance space, www.287Spring.com, (212) 620-0935, Subway Direction: 1 to Houston Street; C, E, to Spring Street.-Marina Brennan