Jimmy DeSana: Submission at the Brooklyn Museum highlights the work of a talented but lesser-known photographer, artist, and LGBTQ advocate. From his early days taking pictures of suburban Georgia to his involvement in the New York punk scene, Jimmy DeSana used his art to challenge traditional American ideals and the images that represent them. The exhibition features almost 200 of DeSana’s works, some of which have never been shown before, and covers a period of over 20 years that encompasses his connections to the mail-art movement, New York’s subcultures in the 1970s and 1980s, the “Pictures Generation” of image-focused artists, and the impact of HIV/AIDS on his community.
As part of punk aesthetics and its symbolic forms of resistance, DeSana and his peers tried to create art communities outside of traditional institutions. The exhibition showcases his involvement in zines, artist collectives, performance art, experimental films, and club culture. In his major series – 101 Nudes (1972), Submission (1977-79), and Suburban (1979-84) – DeSana photographed himself and his friends (sometimes naked and without showing their faces) in suburban homes, exploring themes of sexual freedom, LGBTQ aesthetics, and conformity to consumer culture. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, DeSana was heavily involved in New York’s punk and No Wave scenes and took pictures of famous artists and musicians for album covers and alternative publications. This exhibit will be the first to feature his portraits of well-known figures like Kathy Acker, Laurie Anderson, Kenneth Anger, Patti Astor, David Byrne, John Giorno, Debbie Harry, and Richard Hell. Alongside these works are DeSana’s more abstract pieces from the late 1980s, created after he was diagnosed with HIV, that show how he challenged dominant beliefs about the body and sexuality during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.