Desire for the young, beautiful male body drove all the photographic work of Rio de Janeiro artist Alair Gomes [1921–1992], carried out over a span of 20 years. Throughout the course of his production extending from 1960 to 1980, the artist’s gaze, from a homoerotic standpoint, became complex and original. In recent years, this work of a radical nature, which combines personal compulsion with strategies for the development of a refined artistic language, has been better studied and legitimized by institutions such as MoMA, which recently acquired works by the artist.
Young Male: Photographs by Alair Gomes [Young Male: Fotografias de Alair Gomes], now running at Casa Triângulo, is the largest commercial show of the artist’s work ever held until today. Since his entire photographic archive was donated by his heirs to the Biblioteca Nacional – thereby ensuring its intactness – works by Alair rarely arise in the art circuit available for acquisition by collectors.
The show – featuring works coming mainly from the collection of Robson Phoenix and which can now become part of other collections – exhibits fragments of the series Symphony of Erotic Icons, 1966–1978; A Window in Rio, 1977–1980 and Viagens [Europa, Arte] [Trips (Europe, Arte)], 1969. The latter includes photographs of Greco Roman statues taken on the artist’s first trip to Europe, which led him to replace the literary writing of his Diários Eróticos [Erotic Diaries] by representation through photography. Later, the classical aesthetic that underscores the power and virility of the male body would serve as a reference for his portraits of nude young men.
A Window in Rio is one of the series falling under the overall title Finestra, which Alair photographed from the window of his sixth-floor apartment in Ipanema, registering the movements of the young men on the sidewalk and in the windows of nearby buildings.
Without being noticed, the photographer exercised his role as a voyeur, making his telephoto lens a sort of weapon with which the hunter “slays” and captures the body of his prey. Symphony of Erotic Icons was the first sequential composition made by Alair, between 1966 and 1978. Considered his magnum opus, it is entirely dedicated to the male nude and contains a set of 1,767 photographs. The series is structured in five movements: Allegro, Andatino, Andante, Adagio and Finale. For Alair, the construction of this photographic world aimed to “transcend his personality,” creating a “proto-religious” state. This series has never been shown as a whole and it would be difficult to do so, due to legal questions related to the lack of formalized consent from the photographed subjects.
- Alair Gomes, from the series A Window in Rio, 1969. Courtesy of Casa Triângulo
- Alair Gomes, from the series Symphony of Erotic Icons, 1966-1978. Courtesy of Casa Triângulo
- Alair Gomes, from the series Viagens (Europa, Arte) #02, 1969. Courtesy of Casa Triângulo