October 10, 2012 - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) - Nayland Blake
October 10, 2012

Nayland Blake

Nayland Blake, Ruins of a Sensibility, 1972–2002 (with thanks to Lynne Tillman). Records, electronic equipment, plywood. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.

Nayland Blake

October 12, 2012–January 27, 2013

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YCBA)
701 Mission Street
San Francisco CA 94103


Nayland Blake returns to San Francisco with solo exhibition Nayland Blake: FREE!LOVE!TOOL!BOX!, on view at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from October 12, 2012 to January 27, 2013. Blake, who is based in New York City, lived in San Francisco from 1984 to 1996. During that time, he forged a queer aesthetic that bridged two dynamic communities—the contemporary art scene and the subculture within the gay community experimenting with radical sexualities. As one of the innovators of performance art in the Bay Area in the 1980s, fueled by the previous two decades of sexual liberation, Blake often explored aspects of the queer urban lifestyle, including the leather and S&M bar scenes. He revisits personal memories, giving special attention to the common cause in the body-based performances practiced by both of these sectors.

The exhibition is in part a tribute to the pioneering spirit of San Francisco’s kink community. Blake pays homage to Chuck Arnett’s 1963 mural, featuring portraits of hyper-masculine gay men, which graced the walls of the Tool Box, a leather bar where Arnett worked. The mural was featured in the June 26, 1964 issue of Life—the magazine’s first examination of homosexual life in America. The coverage solidified San Francisco’s reputation as a safe haven for the nascent gay and leather communities. 

Much of Blake’s work is a compression, filtering, and reordering of his collection of things and indexing of images. It emerges through an intuitive and expressive process of “upcycling” found and sourced materials. He considers each work to be a residue of his performance with the object, created by reacting to the materials he has gathered together. These materials trigger a process of spontaneity, generating costumes, maypoles, signs, and various sculptures placed on shelves and cables that are informal, precarious, nonsensical, and odd or uncanny. This kind of repurposing acknowledges the relationship between collecting and the formal apparatus of modernist collages, as seen in the work of Kurt Schwitters and the assemblages of Joseph Cornell. For Blake, the bricolage aspect of collage is a parallel activity to the dérive (drift) of a queer urban lifestyle, including cruising, chance encounters, and a fascination with things found on the streets or in junk shops.

Interactive installations include Ruins of a Sensibility (1972–2002) where audience members are invited to DJ the artist’s collection of over three thousand LPs, including several early Sun Ra records, a cast recording of Richard Foreman’s staging of The Threepenny Opera, and “Fist” Goodbody’s Traveling Torture Show; and a video booth inspired in part by Wilhelm Reich’s orgone accumulator.
FREE!LOVE!TOOL!BOX! is a work-in-progress. The artist returns half way through its run at YBCA to reorganize some elements and add new ones. The exhibition is curated by Betti-Sue Hertz, YBCA’s director of visual arts.

A variety of public programs accompany the exhibition, including a decorative piercing performance with Nayland Blake; artist Carlos Motta and Larry Rinder, executive director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, in conversation about queer difference and public identities; and lectures by author and educator Gayle Rubin on the relationships between sex, de-industrialization and the political economies of land use in San Francisco, and historian Richard Meyer about the relation between art history and queer subculture.

For more information on Nayland Blake: FREE!LOVE!TOOL!BOX!, artist bios and visitor information, go to ybca.org/nayland-blake.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA)
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