Gloves Off: George Kuchar's ‘Pagan Rhapsodies’ at PS1

This also means that the work isn’t “camp” according to Ms. Sontag’s formulation, in which emphasis on style implies a slighting of content, a privileging of artifice for its own sake. Because Kuchar’s isn’t a style at all—it’s a method, as endlessly flexible and concerned with communication as any natural language. It may be more comfortable to wear a costume because no one expects the costume to be real, but when, at the end of Hold Me, Kuchar emerges in a bathrobe with a handtowel turban and ascot, sits down to the hideous dinner his mother has cooked him, looks at the camera and says, “There’s a lot of things in life worth living for, isn’t there,” he isn’t taking refuge in make believe; he’s using the performance of taking refuge to express himself directly. He’s making the David out of meatloaf simply because that’s what he has at hand.

But what Michelangelo is supposed to have said about the David—that to make it he just had to cut away the stone that wasn’t it—applies to the meatloaf, too. A good example is The Creeping Crimson (1987), which uses pornography, television, visits to the hospital, fast food, coffee, the death of a district attorney, Halloween, the police, dogs, talking to strangers, parting from a twin brother, work, pajamas, trick or treating, Indian corn, wedding rings, dried flowers, clips from Psycho, an evocative flute motif lifted from a samurai movie, and weather reports to bring out the piercing, melancholy colors in a series of pretty, conventional shots of autumn leaves in the Bronx.