Wolff discusses Chao’s recent show at Numark Gallery, and almost right away makes an important point in placing Chao’s elegant nudes within the always odd context of nudity in Washington, DC; Wolff goes as far as to describe Washington as a “town generally squeamish with nudity.”
And (in my opinion) made even worse by a WaPo critic who is also “squeamish with nudity.”
Among Wolff’s many interesting questions to Chao (which revealed a few somewhat surprising facts – at least to me), I found this one particularly telling:
DW: As I looked at this work, I made a mental list of words that came to mind about the images. But I noticed later that my list didn’t include the word erotic. Do you intend these photos to be erotic?
CC: No. I did not want these images to be erotic. I think it’s too easy to create erotic photos. However, since they are nudes, the undertone is always there. And so even though I don’t intend for them to be erotic, I do want to create some tension with it, or maybe even discomfort…
This is important, because I think that what makes Chao’s display of the female nude stand out hinges on his ability to achieve precisely what Wolff identifies with this question: An ability to take an inherently sensual subject, present it in a manner that doesn’t shout erotica, but retains a certain, unavoidable scent of eroticism; it can’t be helped.
The first time that I saw these photos at Numark, I did not see them as erotic at all. And yet, a second visit to them left behind a slight footprint of eroticism in my mind; perhaps the direct gaze of the women – who knows? It’s not important as to “why” but that it happened.
This Photo-Eye piece by Wolff leaves us watering at the mouth for more pieces (on national level magazines such as this one is) about some of our area artists; it a great start with one of our own art stars… but more please!