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Toor painting The Star
Toor painting The Star

“The Star” (2019) centers on the main character’s transformation.Credit...Salman Toor and Luhring Augustine, via Whitney Museum of American Art

Salman Toor’s evocative, tenderly executed paintings begin to pluck at your heartstrings almost as soon as you see them. The 15 examples of new and recent work that form “How Will I Know,” the artist’s brilliant New York institutional debut at the Whitney Museum of American Art tell the stories of lanky, slightly rubbery dark-haired young men, gentle souls who wouldn’t hurt a flea. The narrative import zigzags from the personal to the social and political and back.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that the main characters here are gay, and not white. Early in the show hangs “The Star,” a 24-inch tondo (or circular work) its roundness echoed by the image’s elliptical mirror. A young man wearing a fluffy pink jacket admires his reflection while two friends tend to his hair and makeup. It’s party time. The light skinned blondness of the hairdresser accentuates the brown skin of our hero.

Mr. Toor was born in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1983, studied art at Ohio Wesleyan University and lives in the East Village. His paintings are imagined scenes based on his and his friends’ experiences as gay brown men both in South Asia and New York. He works in an aesthetic territory bordered by painting, illustration and cartooning. In fact the entire show almost forms an unusually sumptuous graphic novel.

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