Sunday, August 7, 2016

George Dureau at Arthur Roger

Two years after his death, George Dureau is finally getting the recognition he deserved but never really pursued. For an art photographer, having an Aperture Foundation monograph devoted to your work is the gold standard of recognition, and when it  published George Dureau: The Photographs last month, it assured his place in photography's Olympian pantheon, a position further enhanced by his inclusion in upcoming museum symposia at New York's Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere. Now this sprawling show of his photographs and paintings at Arthur Roger provides further insights into the many facets of his persona—facets that can seem more complex in retrospect than when he was alive. Never has someone so otherworldly blended so easily into the background. 
A colorful French Quarter character known for his flamboyant paintings populated by stylized mythic creatures rendered in Creole earth tones, he was also an influential photographer who in the 1970s mentored the iconic New York photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. What set them apart, and led to Dureau's posthumously  elevated status, was his remarkably empathetic vision. The prosthetic arm in his portrait of Wilbert Hines, top, is initially jarring, but its cold presence provides a contrasting foil to Hines' stoic yet fiery pathos. Similarly, the open gaze on the face of BJ Robinson, above left, suggests an equilibrium unfazed by his truncated body. Bohemians and street people provided a steady supply of athletic or voluptuous models for his paintings, and his photographs of hunky, sculptural black guys were celebrated as more sensitive counterparts to Mapplethorpe's colder sensationalism—but it was  Dureau's ability to show us the strength and dignity, amid vulnerability, of marginalized people that ensures his place in art history. His theatrical personality could come across like a pompous artist-aristocrat in a Marcel Proust novel despite his modest Mid City roots, but his disarmingly extroverted playfulness enabled him to incorporate whoever he met into his operatic, mythic universe in which everyone was a magical creature. That quality made him easy to take for granted even as he created some of the most psychologically profound photographs of the latter 20th century. ~Bookhardt / From the Estate: Work by George Dureau, Through Sept. 17, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.