Previously on View: Salman Toor

September 30, 2021, through January 16, 2022


Two men stand in a gallery-like space depicted in tones of green with a vitrine at the centerSalman Toor (b. Lahore, Pakistan, 1983)
Museum Boys, 2021
Oil on panel
30 x 40 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
Photo by Joseph Coscia Jr.

Salman Toor’s Museum Boys draws on the quiet domestic exchanges in Vermeer’s paintings. Set in an allegorical space filled with imaginary sculpture, a ghost-like figure in the foreground smiles coyly at a partially dressed man in the middle ground, echoing the mood of tipsy flirtation in Vermeer’s Officer and Laughing Girl. The sense of arrival and anticipation mirrors the exchange between the figures in Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid. Whereas the objects in Vermeer’s paintings illustrate the growing influence of the Dutch Republic on international trade, the surreal menagerie in Toor’s painting conjures queer mythology and colonial plunder. The heap of objects and limbs in the vitrine between the figures—a recurring motif in the artist’s work—signifies greed, lust, and exhaustion, a hectic consumerist orgy re-organized and re-compiled for a museum space. The vitrine hints at a darker aspect of Vermeer’s prosperous subjects, beneficiaries of the global trade of spices, porcelain, and much more.

The dandyish fashion on view in Museum Boys—a buckled hat, a pale shawl, a pearl earring—is a reference to the costume in Vermeer’s pictures. All this while an assortment of European and Buddhist-looking busts solemnly stand sentinel to an Islamic tombstone in the background. Bringing together a love of narrative, questions of cultural ownership, and queer taxonomy, Toor’s Museum Boys is a sultry, sidelong glance at the canonical world of the Old Masters.

Museum Boys temporarily takes the place of Vermeer’s Girl Interrupted at Her Music, which is currently on loan to the exhibition Johannes Vermeer: On Reflection at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany (September 10, 2021–January 2, 2022).

View full Frick Madison Virtual Tour




[Xavier F. Salomon, Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator]

Salman Toor’s Museum Boys engages with the 17th-century paintings by Vermeer in this room. Here is the artist describing how Vermeer’s art inspires him and the themes he explores in his painting.

[Salman Toor, Artist]

I saw Vermeer’s A Maid Asleep at the Met about 15 years ago. The scale was precious and intimate, inviting me to look closer.

It was painted differently from similar subjects painted by his contemporaries in that it was photographic in parts, some things out of focus, some things sharply in focus—light caught little things that produced almost a little sound like a wind chime, like a tiiiing.

It was like an ASMR experience. It gave me goosebumps.

Yet in Vermeer’s quiet domestic settings there were objects from far away, pointing to 17th-century Dutch supremacy at global trade with Asia and Southeast Asia. These were emblems of the Asian encounter with Europe that transformed post-colonial regions like South Asia, where I’m from.

I related to the coded behavior in Vermeer’s paintings. As a queer man from a conservative culture, I related to the constraints of a moralistic society shown in Vermeer’s paintings where innuendo is the mode of expression. This is reminiscent of generations of queer people in the west and in still intolerant places in the world.

In response to Vermeer’s paintings, I wanted to create an imaginary allegorical space—thinking about the quiet flirtations and the carefully placed objects in Vermeer’s compositions—about items of costume and fashion that conspire to elucidate or confuse us in identifying types of people.

The objects in my paintings are slightly humorous—heaps of body parts, puddles and stone busts resembling plunder or the idea of mammon—hinting at the fracturing experience of growing up as a femme boy in a macho, patriarchal culture and assimilating (to an extent) into western urban culture.

Through this work, I hope viewers find the past in unexpected places. With this proximity to the reverential world of the Old Masters, I want to question who the European history of painting, humanism, and empire belongs to.

And I want to explore exciting new ways of connecting the past with the present.

[Xavier F. Salomon, Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator]

This installation is part of the series Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters and will be on view until January 2022.


About the Artist

photo of Salman Toor

Salman Toor (b. Lahore, Pakistan, 1983) was the subject of a critically acclaimed solo exhibition, How Will I Know, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2020–21. Other recent solo shows include The Pleasure Pavilion: A series of installations | Salman Toor (Luhring Augustine, Brooklyn, New York) and I Know a Place (Nature Morte Gallery, New Delhi, India). Toor’s work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions and projects, including Any distance between us (RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island); and I will wear you in my heart of heart (FLAG Art Foundation, New York); Art on the Grid: 50 Artists’ Reflections on the Pandemic (Public Art Fund, New York); Relations: Diaspora and Painting (PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art, Montreal); Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago (Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago); You Here? (Lahore Biennale 2018, Pakistan); and the 2016 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India. His work is in the permanent collections of the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College, New York; M Woods Museum, Beijing, China; the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Tate, London; RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island; the Wake Forest University Art Collection, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Toor is the recipient of a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant. An image of his painting Music Room (2021) is featured on the Hayward Gallery Billboard, London, through spring 2022. Toor earned his M.F.A. at Pratt Institute in 2009.

Photo: Salman Toor