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  • 'I had done a painting called 'Dancing to Whitney' about two years ago. I was imagining that the characters in the painting were dancing to this song, 'How Will I Know?' When we decided to do this show, we took this title because, not only was it a song that I really like dancing to, but it also had a deeper resonance, thinking about the future.' —Salman ToorDancing to Whitney is part of the body of work recently celebrated at Salman Toor’s first solo show at The Whitney Museum of American Art, Salman Toor: How Will I Know. Inspired by the present example, the curators from the Whitney chose the lyrics from a Whitney Houston song as the exhibition’s title. This institutional recognition is a testimony to the importance of Toor’s oeuvre on the international scene and as an ambassador for the artistic community in Pakistan.

     

    Dancing to Whitney exemplifies Toor’s perfected painterly fluidity and layering technique, depicting multiple unfolding narratives within a single space. “I need every part of the surface to be interesting to me and so I have to reinvent everything so that it becomes interesting, there is a lot of rubbing away and reworking on top…the material is so alive on the surface and I want it to be animated, maximum animation.”i This approach harks back to the artist’s studying of the Old Masters in both technique and subject matter: “I have trained myself in academic painting, when I graduated Pratt in 2009 I still wanted to be like Rubens and Van Dyck and I wanted to have 17th Century costumes and candlelight around me and have that faux gravitas.”ii

     

    In Dancing to Whitney the three characters to the forefront, eyes closed, are engrossed in complete bliss, dancing in their alcohol fuelled haze. In the background, Toor includes a contrasting scene in a muted tonal palette of seated figures talking in quiet union, reminiscent of Gaugin’s Tahitian paintings. Through the juxtaposition of these scenes Toor shares with the viewer a glimpse into his own parallel worlds. Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan and now living in New York, Toor depicts a narrative which could be considered autobiographical, portraying the lives of young, queer brown men living in New York whilst echoing the artist’s conservative Pakistani roots.

     

    Beautifully illustrated in these opposing scenes is Toor’s interest in painting 'little domestic spaces'. Talking about the works of Old Masters that he so admires, Toor noted 'there is a feeling safety and domesticity in the paintings, that I like to work with, I also think of the paintings they have so many little domestic spaces in them like the ones that I have and my friends have in east village, they are safe spaces… I grew up in a culture that was relatively conservative, so I am still attached to the safe spaces… spaces in which expression is completely safe to express everything. I like the combination of flouncy, frilly, feminine domesticity coupled with hairy brown bodies and an idea of the glamour of effeminate men. Together, happy in groups, circles of friendships… that is one of the things that really drives me, as well as the idea of ecstasy in the paintings is the idea of queer friendships and communities of support that are really valuable because growing up my friendships were the most valuable thing to me…'.iii In Dancing to Whitney, the safety of these little domestic spaces is poignantly echoed in the intimate scale of the work.

     

    A pure, joyful celebration of friendship, Dancing to Whitney illustrates the unselfconscious freedom to both let loose and quietly gather in Toor’s imaginary intimate safe space. Like in all Toor’s best works, there is an edge. The protagonist is squarely in a world that is not always welcoming, his pose, clothing and stance seem to distressingly echo Goya’s martyr in The Third of May 1808. Even in this moment of captured happiness there is an emotional charged undercurrent of the struggles of being a brown gay man, and how, in the confines of this small private room that there is the safety and confidence to be free.

     

    Francisco Goya, Execution of the Defenders of Madrid, c. 1810-1814, oil on canvas, Prado, Madrid. Image: Bridgeman Images.
    Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808, c. 1810-1814, oil on canvas, Prado, Madrid. Image: Bridgeman Images.

    Salman Toor in conversation:

    Discussing Dancing to Whitney at The Whitney Museum of American Art

     

    Salman Toor: My name is Salman Toor and I'm from Pakistan. I am a figurative painter. I had done a painting called Dancing to Whitney about two years ago. I was imagining that the characters in the painting were dancing to this song, "How Will I Know?" When we decided to do this show, we took this title because, not only was it a song that I really like dancing to, but it also had a deeper resonance, thinking about the future.

     

    Narrator: Toor lives and works in New York City, but many of his paintings depict in-between settings.

     

    Salman Toor: There's a lot of dancing in a lot of my paintings. I moved from a conservative place into this ultra-free, urban culture here. So the paintings also move between being fantasies of free space and more constricted, inner spaces that people inhabit when maybe they're crossing national borders and they’re forced to reckon with a reduction of what their identity might mean to a gatekeeper who might have to decide whether these individuals should be allowed to cross or not. And I think they're also ultimately linked to my idea of myself.

     

    Listen in:
    Salman Toor in interview with Nidhi Gupta from GQ India.

     

    Actor Russell Tovey and gallerist Robert Diament meet Salman Toor at his studio in Brooklyn, New York as he puts the finishing touches to his paintings for his first institutional solo show at The Whitney Museum of American Art: TALKART

     

    Salman Toor discussing his practice in interview with the curator of ‘RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting’ at Fondation PHI pour l’art contemporain, November 2020.


    i Salman Toor in interview with Brian Alfred in Sound and Vision podcast
    ii Salman Toor in interview with Brian Alfred in Sound and Vision podcast
    iii Salman Toor in interview with Brian Alfred in Sound and Vision podcast

    • Provenance

      O Art Space, Lahore (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Lahore, O Art Space, Salman Toor: New Paintings, 12 - 22 April 2019

    • Literature

      Nidhi Gupta, 'Pakistani-origin, New York-based artist Salman Toor wants to paint a world where the East and West harmonise', GQ India, 12 March 2020, online
      Harley Wong, 'Salman Toor, The Artsy Vanguard', Artsy, 2020, online

201

Dancing to Whitney

signed and dated 'SalmanToor '18' on the reverse
oil on panel
40.9 x 30.7 cm (16 1/8 x 12 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for £252,000

Contact Specialist

 

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

+ 44 20 7318 4065
[email protected]

 

 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 16 April 2021