Salman Toor’s absorbing show at the Whitney depicts the pleasures, tensions, and small moments of gay life.
The spirit and appearance of Jesus Christ and of Pinocchio, two figures who are rarely found in the same sentence, both can be felt in Salman Toor’s paintings, currently the subject of a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. These deliciously painted and mostly small-to-medium-size pictures, done in the past few years, seem to follow the doings and observations of one young man, though many of the figures in the scenes, which might be set in a bar, on a stoop, or in an apartment, are young men who resemble one another in build. They are willowy and they often sport scraggly dark hair. Many exude a gentleness and sweetness, a demeanor that, along with the shoulder-length hair of some of them, recalls the young Christ in certain canvases by Rembrandt. Oddly, most have long and pronounced noses, which can make us think of Pinocchio even if it is hard to see a link between Carlo Collodi’s mischievous, mishap-prone boy hero and the “boys,” as Toor calls them in his titles.
But then surprising associations with current and past artists, and an unusual predilection for a single color, are also part of the rich and quirky experience that is Toor’s exhibition. Entitled “How Will I Know,” which derives from the popular Whitney Houston song of the same name, it is the first museum show of a relatively young artist who has been exhibiting in New York in recent years but who seems to be barely known even by viewers who keep up with the latest developments. This makes all the more substantial what Toor—who was born in Pakistan in 1983, came to this country for college, and has lived since 2006 in New York City—has accomplished.
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