Smoke, Mirrors and Illusions: Kyle Vu-Dunn’s “Always”


On Friday, December 16, 2022, the author of this article, Efrem Zelony-Mindell, was arrested and charged by the FBI for the attempted enticement of one minor boy in Manhattan, New York, and possession and distribution of child pornography. I mean, Jesus Christ. The case is so viscerally revolting that we can barely read it ourselves, given we thought we knew this person. So, we here at Filthy Dreams were faced with a decision: What are we supposed to do?! Pretend this never happened?! Delete all the articles? That felt cowardly and not exposing how he was able to embed himself into the arts community. So we’re adding this warning to the articles because it also didn’t feel right to ignore it completely:

Kyle Vu-Dunn, Plaza, 2018, Acrylic on epoxy resin, plaster, and foam panel (Courtesy Thierry Goldberg Gallery; © Kyle Vu-Dunn)

There are idealized expectations of the body. There are normalized behaviors that feed the complacency of the public. The hope of homogeny is helped by the acceptance of blind wars–wars not between lands and seas, but wars of the mind that lurk in our homes and are broadcast on our airwaves. The saturation of these opinions is feeding in the halls of institutions and the quarters of our most coveted spaces. There is absolutely nothing homo about the homogenous—or at least nothing as blindingly fabulous as the work of Kyle Vu-Dunn. In his painted reliefs, the body meets exploration, and lands are dense with lights and colors. Parts and places collide into unimaginable imagery. Fantasies lead to trails of error. There are no mistakes; there are gooey bends of anatomy and planes that, at times, make sense but burst forth with complex wonder.

Kyle Vu-Dunn, Over Under, 2018, Acrylic on epoxy resin, plaster, and foam panel (Courtesy Thierry Goldberg Gallery; © Kyle Vu-Dunn)

The queerness of two men blends into one. It seems to trail off in a world full of thunder. Density and complexity reign the surging river of Vu-Dunn’s works. They flow and ebb, coursing and breeding their lush desire. The works are composed of many parts and layers. So much planning for such a simple thing. I wouldn’t call Vu-Dunn’s work strictly a painting. There are elements of sculpture and building, mixed with aspects of storytelling and design. There is, of course, paint, but that is a top layer that sits to inform what lies behind. Behind the works is a conglomerate of preparation and study, careful attention paid to everything living in the edges of a life. The world is a fruitful calamity and Vu-Dunn picks at pieces he wants most.

Kyle Vu-Dunn, Hot Fear, 2018, Acrylic on epoxy resin, plaster, and foam panel (Courtesy Thierry Goldberg Gallery; © Kyle Vu-Dunn)

Puzzles ponder and push the status quo. The expectations of comfort need to be abandoned because to recognize the acceptance of Vu-Dunn’s authentic candidness enriches the history of the body with the contemporary. The carve of the images in his show Always, at Thierry Goldberg Gallery, embellishes the relationship between object and window. Nothing is flat; the works are literally dimensional. By his own admission, “What I do is all smoke, mirrors, and illusions.” There is a prickly thorn sweetly worn by the combination of space and light. Information is crisp and specific. Men of minds seem to worship one another or shiver deep in thoughts. The dreams of reality are reimagined masterfully through the fantasy of these entangled men. The queer body is a needed body that expands the conventions lacking in the history of figuration.

Kyle Vu-Dunn, High Tide, 2018, Acrylic on epoxy resin, plaster, and foam panel (Courtesy Thierry Goldberg Gallery; © Kyle Vu-Dunn)

In the works of Always, we are present with the figures, not peering voyeurs. The welcoming exaggeration of loose limbs and lyrical luminescence becomes an exciting explicit gay imagination. There is a drive of manic gay nesting, making comforts and finding security. Vu-Dunn tells me, “Romance has real emotional stakes.” The convictions of his works are less about sincerity and more about reading into the surreal. Into the depths of those pools are shallow ends and deeps. Down the path to conclusions, there are playful parts that elicit joy and understanding. What is tender is pushed by new forms that are forthright and prudent. The kinds of men who kiss and touch are affirmed and profound. What’s present is more than real, the paintings pierce through such a punctum; they are embellished by the eyes of those who stop and stare. These viewers will give new life and volume to what lies inside. There are minds raging like madness that may think such imagery is unacceptable. They are missing the need for the awakening of the queer and uncanny. Vu-Dunn’s works are like rubies and emeralds wrapped up in silks and velvet, they are lush and emblazoned by the needs of beautiful objects.

Kyle Vu-Dunn, Cooking Together, 2018, Acrylic on epoxy resin, plaster, and foam panel (Courtesy Thierry Goldberg Gallery; © Kyle Vu-Dunn)

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