Madonna, Wilde, and bears — oh my!

Pub date February 27, 2008
WriterMatt Sussman
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

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REVIEW The International Bear Rendezvous has come and gone, but a few stragglers searching for a good time can still be found in "Bear Hunting," James Gobel’s series of lush and faintly melancholy portraits. Attired in flannels, suspenders, and trendy band T-shirts, Gobel’s burly and bearded imagined subjects might appear uncannily familiar to regulars of the Eagle or the Lone Star, or to certain segments of BUTT magazine’s readership.

But while their clothing scans along contemporary gay subcultural lines — which these days seems to overlap with the dress sense of male hipsters — Gobel poses them in the mannered body language of the 19th-century aesthete. Eyes slyly cocked, paused by some combination of antique architectural details — a velvet curtain, a divan, a newel post, flocked wallpaper — each bear holds aloft a flickering candle, as if he’s studied Cindy Sherman’s anonymous, imperiled heroines alongside Oscar Wilde’s famously photographed languid contrapposto.

Not that the supersaturated royal purples, peacock blues, and John Deere greens or the acrylic, yarn, and wool felt textures of Gobel’s marquetry need more illumination. His canvases almost pop off the wall. But the bears appear to remain oblivious to their rainbow-colored surroundings. Like Ingrid Bergman in Gas Light (1944) or Joan Fontaine in Rebecca (1940), they seem trapped in a haunted house in which something isn’t quite right and the past lingers on like a killer hangover. In Holding Tenderly to What Remains, the subject reveals a "Madonna Live at Coachella" T-shirt beneath his Pendleton. The title, in combination with the shirt, immediately underscores the nostalgia industry driven by and marketed to the pink dollar, in which subcultures — yes, even bears — become marketing demographics.

The question that Gobel’s portraits stop short of answering is, what happens when the flame goes out? *


Through March 29

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(415) 627-9111