Openings: Trevor Shimizu
By Joe Bucciero for Artforum
April 1, 2020
If much art exists to stimulate admiration, even lust, few artists are as up-front about it as Trevor Shimizu. Pieces throughout his career demonstrate as much: One, from 1999, begins a recent survey, Trevor Shimizu: Performance Artist, at the ICA Philadelphia. It’s the artist’s first “performative” self-portrait, portraying a painted avatar who resembles a Luc Tuymans figure—washed out against a light backdrop and given shape by a mop of black hair, black sunglasses, and a black shirt. Shimizu looks vintage, cool. To his right sits a red-haired woman eating sushi and peering at him with interest. Even without the title—Molly Ringwald (Self-Portrait)—you might guess that the scene derives from the 1985 film The Breakfast Club, with Shimizu, poised to flirt, destabilizing the flat depictions of Asian and Asian American men that populate John Hughes movies.
Born in Northern California in 1978, the young Shimizu internalized those offensive movie characters; in a recent interview, he noted that he didn’t feel “sexually attractive until Crazy Rich Asians came out” in 2018. A year earlier, he had begun a series of paintings dedicated to his “groupies”—the sexy “women” (i.e., bots) who follow him on Instagram—rendering their profiles with basic strokes, less Tuymans than Michael Krebber. Molly Ringwald and the “Groupies” series, 2017–, both frame Shimizu as hot by proxy, then, desired by filmic or algorithmic characters (it’s not just chic Japanese food that Ringwald wants). But like the artist himself, the characters in these pictures either never materialize or fade away; Shimizu’s romantic life, like some of his art, remains on-screen. If he requires such women to subtend his masculine aspirations, his is a fragile masculinity indeed.