Hustlers Press Release
September 12—November 2, 2013
David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of photographs from Philip-Lorca diCorcia's Hustlers series (1990–1992), on view at the gallery's 525 and 533 West 19th Street spaces in New York. Also displayed, and shown for the first time in the United States, will be a room-sized installation composed of three synchronized single-channel projections entitled Best Seen, Not Heard (2012). An exhibition of the artist's East of Eden series will be concurrently presented at the gallery's London location (24 Grafton Street) from September 25 to November 16, 2013.
Taken just over twenty years ago in Los Angeles in the vicinity of Santa Monica Boulevard, Hustlers is considered to be one of diCorcia's best-known series. It features male prostitutes posing for the camera for a fee loosely equivalent to what they would charge for their sexual services. DiCorcia paid the subjects with grant money awarded to him by the National Endowment for the Arts, a bold gesture during the controversial years that witnessed censorship of NEA-supported exhibitions by Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and other artists. In 1993, twenty-one works from Hustlers were on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, marking diCorcia's first museum solo exhibition. Two decades later, the exhibition at David Zwirner presents thirty-six photographs from the series, including twelve works newly produced and shown for the first time.
Hustlers marks the beginning of diCorcia's engagement with street photography. Many of his works appear to depict random events in public settings, yet rarely involve chance. For this project, each composition was carefully arranged before nearby hustlers were approached, and the result is a series of loaded narratives that revolve around a tension between the subject's unique presence in front of the camera and the artist's predetermined idea for the shoot. Depicted in a variety of settings including vacant lots, fast food chains, bus stops, and motel rooms, the hustlers are identified in the titles of the photographs by their name, age, place of birth, and payment received for posing for the camera. They are typically shown on their own, framed within a self-contained universe with little direct indication of their profession. Viewed together, however, the works in the series create a sense of typology, extending the narrative component to encompass a cinematic dimension, which is further strengthened by the Hollywood location. As diCorcia notes, "these were men who portrayed themselves as a product in a city that sells fantasy, violence, and sex. As if they were one more thing to be consumed… Photography is an exchange. The original title for the project was Trade: as in the street word for prostitutes, as the exchange of services for money, as the role reversal which voyeurs indulge and photography provides, as the desire to be anybody but you."
The installation Best Seen, Not Heard projects the photographs of the hustlers on a large screen flanked by the opening and closing credits of old porn movies, taken from a compilation set of vintage "stag films" dating from the 1920s to the 1950s. The left-hand screen cycles through more than a dozen titles, such as Tom Boy, The Dentist, and Daily Duty, with the right side showing the film's accompanying end credit. Appearing in the space between, the theatricality of the photographs is enhanced and the line between reality and fiction blurred. In contrast to the short-lived and sometimes brutal nature of the deals offered by the men, the installation presents perpetual, fetishized scenarios far removed from individual circumstances. This work was created specially by the artist for the Grand Palais in Paris, where it was displayed alongside paintings by Edward Hopper as part of the eponymous retrospective held in 2012. DiCorcia has stated "Hopper's work is half about what you do not see," and Best Seen, Not Heard responds poignantly to the late American painter's legacy as it juxtaposes portraits of hustlers with old porn movie credits, without depicting the act itself.
The exhibition at David Zwirner coincides with the large-scale publication Hustlers, produced by Pascal Dangin in collaboration with the artist. Published by steidldangin, it features all sixty-six works in the series, along with an introduction by the artist.