Document Gallery is delighted to present Suburban, the first solo exhibition in Chicago dedicated to the work of pioneering photographer Jimmy DeSana (1949-1990). Organized in collaboration with P·P·O·W, the show features twelve photographs completed between 1979 and 1985.
DeSana’s series Suburban not only challenges the divide between artistic and commercial photography that was still prevalent in the 1970s, but also a range of other commonly held binaries such as male and female, gay and straight, domination and submission, suburban culture and private self-exploration, standardized domesticity and the subjectivity of sexual pleasure, among others. Yet, by staging puzzling domestic scenarios with nude figures under colorful tungsten lights, DeSana did not intend to step into the territory of erotic photography.
Instead, he used the body to resignify daily objects and spaces, ultimately shedding light on the strangeness of suburban lives dominated by consumerism.
It is the vision to cross these divides that constitutes the disruptive character of DeSana’s work, particularly at a time when artistic photography remained, for the most part, black and white and deliberately separated from any commercial associations. In addition, his ambiguous images and dream-like scenarios infused with popular culture imagery from magazines, film, and advertising sought to question the traditional constructs of gender and sexuality. Yet, despite DeSana’s use of mass media elements and his affiliation and collaboration with other artists of the so-called “Pictures Generation,” “his role and the role of other queer people in this loose group of artists in New York is still underrecognized, which speaks to some about the inadequacies of strict critical categories and received histories of contemporary art.”1
In a career that spanned over three decades but came to a premature end due to an AIDS-related illness, Jimmy DeSana also got involved in queer mail art networks, issued his own responses to the AIDS crisis, and was a fixture of New York’s downtown night scene. In 2022, the Brooklyn Museum organized a retrospective titled Jimmy DeSana: Submission, accompanied by a major monographic catalog co-published by DelMonico Books and the Brooklyn Museum. DeSana’s photographs can be found in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, IL; the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY; the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, TX; the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY; and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY.
1 Anne Pasternak, “Foreword,” in Jimmy DeSana: Submission, ed. Drew Sawyer (New York: DelMonico Books / D.A.P., 2022), 7.