In his photographic prints of men underwater, usually nude but sometimes clothed, Robert Flynt addresses the subject of homosexuality frankly, but in such a way as to place it in a universal context. In the process he argues for its acceptance not as an aberration but as another expression of the natural order.
By photographing his subjects underwater, Flynt gives these images a dreamlike, poetic lyricism, like slow-motion scenes of lovers in films, though not to the point of cliche. He puts his figures at a remove from the real world, and endows them with a balletic grace that blurs the distinction between the human figure as sexual object and as work of art.
That's only one aspect of the meaning of these complex works, however. Flynt combines his photographs of men with other images to create montages rich with layers of implication.
By superimposing classical sculpture on his living nudes, Flynt illuminates ambiguities in the relationships between life and art. Why is it proper, even desirable, to admire a nude sculpture representing a person of one's own sex, but improper to admire a living human being? Is it
really possible to say that the one experience is exclusively aesthetic and the other exclusively sexual?
By adding to these nudes images of "normal" same-sex contact from life-saving manuals ("Fireman's Lift and Carry"), or by showing fully clothed men holding hands superimposed with a picture of a volcano, Flynt asks us to question our perceptions of behavior: Where does the acceptable end and the unacceptable begin? Is it in the actions of the observed or in the mind of the observer? Why do we consider it OK for one man to carry another in one situation, but not to hold hands in another?
By showing his men superimposed with a highway cloverleaf, a weather map, a series of romantic nature scenes, a picture of the planets or of the galaxy, Flynt places homosexuality in the contexts of both the everyday world and the grand scheme of the universe.
At the same time he reduces sexuality to one among many of the facets of individual life. Homosexuality, these works imply, is an aspect of identity but not the entirety.
At the end of the exhibit is a wall of 36 small prints, some of which are variations on images elsewhere in the show. It's a convenient way to show a lot of works together, but as an installation its repetitions also argue for the invisibility of the ubiquitous: Only if homosexuality becomes so visible that it is no longer remarkable or even noticed will it become invisible through acceptance, the other end of the spectrum from invisibility through concealment.
There are both homosexual and heterosexual works that seek primarily to titillate while posing in the guise of art. These are not among them; their eroticism finds a level as merely one element in their larger meaning.
What: Robert Flynt exhibit.
Where: Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Through May 29.
Call: (410) 752-2080.