Karen Lepri on Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt and NanGoldin

Last August in Annandale-on-Hudson at Bard College, I heard poet Karen Lepri read a piece on two 2012 exhibits in New York by artists Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt and Nan Goldin. I enjoyed the swerves the writing makes and I asked her to share it with xpoetics, and she has.

Karen Lepri

No Cock Sorry

There are no cocks—sorry—male members—visible in the three pieces from PS 1’s Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt:
Tender Love Among the Junk showcased on the museum’s website, but walking through the exhibition feels like the inverse of Where’s Waldo—he’s/his is everywhere though unlikely to show up had I photographed the work, the rainbow glare of foil in every hue, the dominant tinge of all-over gold, and the almost pointillist fanaticism and fibrous, microscopic details washing out—or shall I say, tenderizing—the hundreds of cut-up black and white male nudes.

My mother always counseled, No one will even notice!, when two shades of black were “off” from each other, or when I was the only girl at First Holy Communion wearing vestment and tights with rubber-soled white sandals (as opposed to white patent leather Mary Janes), but in the photograph with my skewed smile I still notice.



Lollipop Knick Knack (Let's Talk About You). c. 1968-69. Mixed media. 9 x 16 x 5 1/2 inches. Courtesy Pavel Zoubok Gallery. Photo fromMOMA PS1

Lanigan-Schmidt’s work builds a bomb out of the sacristy, out of outer layers, priestly garments, doilies, altars, confession booths, plastic wrappers, lasagna trays, all things used to hide behind, masturbate behind, conjure a dual sense of salvation and condemnation … behind—exploded, exposed, the shards comprise a renovated, effervescent object d’amour, or rather embody out-right worship. 

Nan Goldin’s nudes have almost always been house-enough themselves, meaning, one with other surfaces, structures, enough to hold what’s human inside.


Nan Goldin, The nap, Paris (2010). Image via Matthew Marks Gallery.



In Goldin’s retrospective Scopophilia at Matthew Marks last Fall, the photographs of Classical sculptures and Renaissance paintings of female nudes acted as our tour guides to the irreverent or simply luscious moments within a gaze of the total work—here fingers pinch a nipple, hair dangles between breasts, stone returns to painted surface returns to flesh—Medusa’s stare reversed.

Is my attraction a form of penis-phobia (it’s so small—how do I find it?) or does every viewer’s eye lynch onto the protruding form, its muddled shadows, assured epicenter of every male nude photo collaged into one of Lanigan-Schmidt’s pieces? 


My friend tells me how a boy on the playground tells her daughter, You must like princesses because you’re a girl, to which she replies, lying, No I don’t, to which he retorts, scientifically, Then you’re not a girl, to which she rebuts, plainly, and in my opinion unknowingly losing the battle, Some girls play with boys’ things and some boys play with girls’ things.

A key difference between the photograph of the painting detail on the left and the photograph of “real women” on the right in Goldin’s 2010 The Nap is that in the painting detail photo we can’t see the women’s hands, can’t see how they sleep or play.


 “Lesbian bed-death” is where a non-incestuous sexual relationship between two women, or lesbians, transforms into a potentially incestuous non-sexual relationship through meta-physical, not physical, bonds—or so I have heard.

There is nothing to dramatize about the cruelty of ceasing to desire the body of your lover or your sister before it even barely begins to die, meaning the desire, meaning unlike Oedipus and Jocasta or Claudius and Gertrude, Gertrude being not a sister but by marriage, still wrong enough, or simply fast enough, to pulverize Hamlet’s mind.


In The Nap, the paired couples seem joined at the legs, one body with four torsos, four heads, diametrically positioned, the thigh of each bottom figure rising to meet at the juncture of two frames, the left-hand arms peeling away to expose four breasts, the huddled right-hand arms forming an ‘X,’ a literal coat of arms.

After Lanigan-Schmidt, my two friends, boyfriends for five years plus, and I are finishing our “snacks” at the museum restaurant when a waitress drops a glass that shatters everywhere, and Paul, ever a comic, throws a wine bottle to the ground, catching it on the bounce, the embarrassed waitress now smiling, glad to be doubled, her blooper refracted back to her as if to say, Yeah, we noticed, but nobody cares.

November 27, 2012

Karen Lepri is the author of Incidents of Scattering (Noemi, 2013) and the chapbook Fig. I (Horse Less Press, 2012). Lepri received the 2012 Noemi Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in 6x6, Boston Review, Chicago ReviewConjunctions, Lana Turner, Mandorla, and elsewhere. She teaches writing at Queens College.

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