Dad! Tom Cruise won’t come out of the closet!” - Stan from an episode of South Park
“I would prefer not to.” - Bartleby, from Bartleby the Scrivner
Broc Blegen wants to try on some new clothes. During our conversations about his show we talked about children who cross-dressed or dressed-up in their parents’ clothes. It’s something he remembers doing as a kid but wants to get back in touch with how much fun it was. Maybe it’s because, as you get older, people start to take it too seriously. Everyone thinks you’re trying to make a point instead of just having fun.
This kind of performance, where a creative gesture goes against the grain of social expectations in order to put certain normative behaviors into high relief, is a motivation that drives Blegen. He is an artist who is interested in taking a nuanced political stance and making a point but this does not mean resorting to polemics and partisanship.
All of the works in Coming Out Party are copies, made in exacting detail by Blegen or hired fabricators, of important works by well established contemporary artists. He’s researched and chosen works that can be accurately duplicated so that they come very close to replicating the form and experience of the original piece. Since Blegen’s works aren’t forgeries (they don’t attempt to take the place of the original) he’s created a show with an ingenious yet refreshing uncanny-ness; they’re displayed as the same and considered parallel works that don’t attempt to steal the aura of the originals. But like other conceptual pieces, you have to look past the physical object to find the work.
Blegen has compiled his collection for a fraction of the cost of buying it through galleries or on the secondary market. He loves these works and gives credit to the original artists but, as an exhibited collection, they play a part in his incisive commentary on the economics of the art market. If he can make copies that very closely resemble these important pieces, it begs the question: what do collectors get when they pay millions of dollars for the same piece? Those who can afford it would say there is an enormous amount of cultural value, investment potential, and power that comes with owning an original. And this type of collecting power that feeds on then manipulates the art market is increasingly obvious to Blegen; so much so, in fact, that the market is saturated with commercial art leaving less space for political art. The refabricated works in Blegen’s collection are a way to return to dialoguing on the aesthetic concepts of contemporary art by slicing through and peeling away the distracting cachet of art collecting.
Coming Out Party is not a show of gay artists who make art about being gay. It is a queer show, however, in which Blegen use creative strategies to enable, among other things, the recollection of ghosts from the 1990s Culture Wars. He also re-uses the forms of truth telling, such as self-deprecating jokes, to goad viewers to think about issues of sexual identity and disclosure.
Glenn Ligon’s Red Portfolio (1993), is a retort to the Culture Wars, exemplified by the federal obscenity charges leveled at the Cincinnati Art Center and its director Robert Barrie for hosting Robert Mapplethorpe’s Perfect Moment exhibition. Ligon’s portfolio is nine black & white photographic prints of text written by National Endowment for the Arts critics the Christian Coalition and endorsed by Rev. Pat Robertson. They summarize, what were considered by them, to be Mapplethorpe’s most perverted photos. Instead of making copies of the photographs, perhaps out of fear of being considered pornography distributors, Robertson and the Christian Coalition wrote short, one-line sentences such as “A close-up of a man with his ‘pinkie’ finger inserted in his penis.” These captions, via Ligon and Blegen, are a distorted stand in for the larger works. The warning here is that it didn’t take much to suppress then indict the work, the artist, and museum with charges of pornography, therefore, proving they were unworthy of support from the United States government. In many ways Ligon’s, and now Blegen’s piece, is a monument to what happened during this infamous trial. In representing the work Blegen goes one step further to remind us that, like all monuments, even though certain conflicts are finished, they are not an assurance against similar or new battles to fought in the future.
The painting Untitled (1995), which reads “My parents kept me in a closet for years. Until I was fifteen I thought I was a suit,” is one of Richard Prince’s famous one-liner jokes, repainted here by Blegen. Yes, it’s a corny one but jokes are usually a way of sublimating the pain of saying something difficult. Jokes also tend to appear out of nowhere, without an author to give credit to. They often go through so many retellings they mutate so that the original joke is lost. In their paintings, Prince and Blegen have given these painted jokes an author but the original jokes still remains anonymous. The speaker is making light of growing up in an over-protective household using familiar trope of the closet; with its implied darkness and hidden depths, a place where movement and expression is constricted and goes unseen. When the closet is breached the double-edged effect of coming out is that the person could be re-marked as gay and, in a way, be put into another socially constructed closet. Like the Ligon, Blegen’s retelling is a reification of the joke. It would be more accurate to call it a double-joke: there is the joke painted on the canvas and the joke being played on art market for turning these works into such expensive commodities. Get it?
Or maybe we don’t “get it.” Blegen got, or made, the works in Coming Out Party but did so by making them himself in a way that copies but slides along the “normal” means of doing so. It’s a form of resistance that responds to but does not make a direct confrontation with, in this case, the commercialization of the art market. It’s an ambiguous resistance that frustrates questions about how it is orientated.
 Richard Prince’s Untitled, 1995 was sold at auction for $1,202,500, November 10, 2010.