Originally slated to be shown in March, Salman Toor’s dynamic, figurative paintings take on new dimensions of nostalgia and yearning in How Will I Know, his first solo museum exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Toor, who was born in Lahore, Pakistan and now resides in New York, captures the anonymous intimacy of public urban life — the theater of crowded bars and lovers perched on stoops — tableaus that viewers prior to the pandemic might have found simply relatable now feel potent in their depictions of forbidden conviviality.
Adrift in this reverie are Toor’s subjects: South Asian, queer men. These men are stylish, evinced by the artist’s careful representation of details like the glint of a gold ring or a bandana tied just so ‘round a recurring character’s neck. Toor’s subjects exude a familiarity with the othering gaze as well as with the elements of performance that can subvert it. In “Bar Boy” (2019), one such figure, sporting a purple, broad-brimmed hat, is situated in the center of a lively bar surrounded by cavorting patrons who seem to pulsate with energy. These eddies of movement, emphasized by undulating hues of green rendered in Toor’s signature, generous brushstrokes, draw attention to the man’s stillness. Despite a demonstrated fluency in his cosmopolitan environment, the figure stands aloof, peering down at his phone, imbued with a sense of ambient loneliness.
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