Penetration. I was uttering the very word while examining the startling brute force of these images in John McWhinnie's office at Glen Horowitz Bookseller's post Upper East Side address when a suited man started pacing furtively on the gallery floor. Shifting his gaze to his feet, he stated his purpose in a rush of words: he was there to pick up Steven Klein's new book. The bounty entered his hands wrapped in white tissue inside a plain brown paper bag.
Surely, there are enough horse fetishists out there to warrant the 2000 trade edition (along with a limited and deluxe edition of original prints) of Klein's newly published book on horse studding, but that says nothing about the artistic quality of these photographs.
Not to mention the timeliness.
Aptly titled Stag Film, the series was an organic outgrowth of Klein's images of Madonna Unbound, and again in Madonna Rides Again. He recaptured the kundalini power that the pop superstar delivered to the collective in the early 1980s, but in a bridled form, laying bare the control mechanism that continued to confine the transcendental goddess power to repression in the shadows. Among the few capable of successfully, and often brilliantly, treading the tension filled zone between fashion and art, Klein was exposing fashion's attempt to harness the newly emerging archetype of the feminine - and the risk for women daring to brave the chasm between epochs.
The target of the stallion is inert, infertile, a dummy scented with desire that reduces the natural act of procreation to the cold calculation of commerce. It is heightened realism, starkly authentic in its depiction of the utilitarian act of studding transmuted by the camera into holy rite.
Klein might as well as be speaking about the futility of penetrating (r)evolutionary new forms -- never mind attempting to interpret them -- through the commercially minded and frenetic pacing of the 24/7 celebrity-obsessed corporate media.
Taken in the round, the photographs are printed on both sides of the page, forcing an aperspectival view of a single subject. The raw, rudimentary presentation is as clinical as science, as if not fully aware of their primordial aesthetic -- and Klein's ongoing formal inquiry into the body as a container for desire. The bulging muscle of the thighs. The bristling mane. Is it any wonder young girls have their first love affair with a horse? The horse represents freedom - the ride across the endless prairie into a sun that never goes down -- as long as one charges hard and fast enough.
This operatic interplay heightens a narrative -- at once clandestine and public -- through the formal qualities of light and shadow mastered by Klein's intimate knowledge of his subject. Penetrating into the erotic dynamic of control and surrender, he serves up a confluence of motion and stillness that radically shifts our orientation. Removing the ego from the experiencing of looking - or should I say, peeping -- a primordial discharge, we are at the mercy of the body.
Shall we surrender to its innate intelligence and admit we have arrived?
Printed on plain brown paper and encased in a black box with a cut-out for the head of the phantom mare, the packaging generates a peep show quality, a guilty pleasure of - yes, a stag film, but one that cuts to the repression of the authentic feminine at the core of western myth; the hunter Actaeon turned into a stag by the vengeful Artemis - all because he stared at her while she was bathing in the forest. That damned male gaze sourced at the origin of classicism! Klein cleverly gets around this dilemma by leaving the female out of the sex act.
And replacing her with a dummy!
The genius of Stag Film is in its timely delivery. Art is nothing if not the confluence of material in time and space. The collusion of dealer and artist with the collective need slyly delivered in plain wrapping through the backdoor venue of the antiquarian bookseller! How apt of a scenario for the circumvention of the world of fashion and art, complete with corporate hierarchies, society inc. mavens and false kingmakers. Artists are the authentic image-makers, yet the official structures of the art world continue to deny what has become so obvious to the collective culture - the arising of a new archetype of the feminine.
Perhaps Klein, long at the vanguard where fashion and art meet, is slyly revealing through the timing of a release for which he designed every element -- that fashion is also failing to capture a feminine that is fully alive in a new form.
Thus, the need to reach back to the past - to the bastard child of the collusion between the postmodernisti queen (Madonna) gone baroque by her material lust, nonetheless exposed by her consort/image maker (Klein).
Let's turn back further - to the breakthrough Muybridge studies of horse locomotion that brought the still photograph into cinematic motion. Stag Film infuses the erotic narrative into the black and white realism tradition as a strategy to expose the technological culture's denial of the crucial role of the authentic feminine power to give birth to a new society.
Photographs by Eadweard Muybridge
The answer lies on the back cover of the book -- a symbol of the sacred marriage of opposites in resolution to the objective/nonobjective dichotomy polarizing art in the last half of the 20th century. The photograph is a horse placenta, presumably nurturing the birth of the New. Wrapped in plain paper, it arises as an aesthetic of an aware eroticism reflected in its creator: the power of the intelligent phallus penetrating an all too appropriate target.