At the Robert Berman Gallery July 21, panels on the walls showed astronauts posed weirdly. They looked like they weren’t sure how their limbs worked, or like they were about to fall off the edge of the universe. Or they just didn’t know what the heck. Neither do I, most days.
The show was David Trulli’s (Space) Men in the Cities. I asked a woman standing near me what she thought of this one. “It’s interesting,” she said. Same thought I had. They’re fun for a glance, but…why?
Robert Berman had been walking around the gallery, showing the walls off to a few people. “Every painting in the place is, in some way, a copy of another painting,” he said. I overheard him talking a little about the (Space) Men. I asked him if he could repeat it.
“It’s kind of a scratchboard technique. I don’t know much about it,” he said. “You can ask the artist over there.”
The artist was tall, boisterous, and already explaining the process to a couple of people as I approached him. Trulli does the work on a a white clay-coated board, covered with black ink. He meticulously scrapes away the ink, and by his etches reveals the image. The pieces are all good-sized; one of them looks to be four feet tall, and took a year to complete.
But why do this with astronauts looking too drunk to be in space?
Trulli explained that in the late 70s, an artist named Robert Longo did a series of charcoal-drawn silhouettes called Men In the Cities. It depicted sharply dressed people in cityscapes, caught in the middle of really weird postures. “I was fascinated by the way, when you looked at them, you couldn’t tell whether they were supposed to be dancing or on drugs,” Trulli said.
“Those pictures always stuck with me.”
And so their poses made their way into Trulli’s assiduous etchings three and a half decades later.
Robert Longo was right there for the googling, at which point things made a lot more sense. Men in the Cities is exuberant and breezy. The figures’ smart apparel amplifies the sense of a truly universal instinct for complete abandon through dance. They’re music video extras caught in the act of grooving, unashamed.
Taking these those bodies out of the cities and resettling them in the starkness of space heightened a sense of isolation to their poses, Trulli said.
“With each passing day we all feel a little more untethered. No stars or landmarks guide us in our new world” said Trulli. “The stress causes us fits, makes us semi-conscious, or in my case, makes me bounce back and forth between the two. It’s dizzying.”
Trulli added: “Many days I’m ready to take the next spaceship out of here.”