There's so much more to George Bellows' homoeroticism than those boxing paintings. Above is a detail from his 42 Kids, which is basically the first oil you see upon entering the excellent show at the National Gallery of Art in DC. Later you see his bathhouse sketch, which was a memorable part of Hide/Seek. Obviously, the married Bellows gravitated toward masculine venues, but beyond that I think a case can be made that he sought queer spaces even in his gorgeous depopulated landscapes of New York at its edge and its fringe. Probably it's just me and my jetlag, but doesn't his wife Emma look like she knows something? The exhibit stays up through October 8. If you can't go, get the catalog, whose cover says a lot.
Decoded author Jay-Z has come out strongly for gay marriage, saying, "It's no different than discriminating against blacks. It's discrimination, plain and simple." The Week wonders if this endorsement from Beyonce's husband is more influential than Obama's. Not so long ago Jay-Z was rapping about fags and faggots. Now he says of anti-gay marriage homophobia, "I’ve always thought of it as something that is holding the country back. What people do in their own homes is their business and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business."
Ditto Will Smith.
The Kennedy Center announced it will honor Ellen DeGeneres with the 15th Mark Twain Prize. Board member Cappy McGarr (!) said they are not making a political statement by selecting a married lesbian. “This has nothing to do with any political issue,” he said. “But she’s brilliantly shined a light on society, and that’s what Mark Twain did.”
Manchester University has named Jeanette Winterson professor of creative writing for two years. She will teach undergraduates and masters students, and she will do four public events a year. She takes the position after Colm Tóibín's one-year stay, following four years of Martin Amis.
If the world worked as it should, Tom Mallon's fizzy, madcap tale of a Jazz Age men's magazine Bandbox would have seen the champagne sales and rich movie deal of Tom Rachman's recent newspaper novel The Imperfectionists [Kindle]. Now Mallon deserves for fate to flip his way: Following the flop of Ann Beattie's comeback book Mrs. Nixon, maybe America's most literary historical novelist will score a breakaway bestseller with his new novel, Watergate [Kindle], which has earned terrific early reviews.
Readers wary of revisiting the Nixon era through the eyes of a self-confessed Republican writer will be reassured to find, as the WSJ says, "The most perceptive and wittiest members of Mr. Mallon's cast are the women." Specifically, says the NYT, "the book’s uncontested star is Alice Roosevelt Longworth... who is never at a loss for a scorching one-liner. 'I believe she’s to be released back into the wild after the benediction,' she says of the singer Ethel Merman." The LAT says, "as Joan Kennedy bends to kiss the old woman's cheek, Longworth recoils: 'That's why I usually wear a wide-brimmed hat.'" Are we not all counting the minutes until a videographer compiles the ultimate quipfest pitting the Dowager Countess of Grantham's worst against Alice Longworth's most withering?
The only shot because the young guard warned me there is "no photographizing anywhere in Gertrude Stein."
Tomorrow, Hide/Seek re-emerges at the Brooklyn Museum but the best queer show of the year is now on display at its former home, the National Portrait Gallery in DC, where a gallery wall is emblazoned with the quote, "We are surrounded by homosexuals, they do all the good things in all the arts." So wrote Gertrude Stein in a 1934 letter to Samuel Steward, and co-curators Wanda Corn and Tirza True Latimer have created their marvelous show about Gertrude & Alice with major emphasis on queerness. Again, this is painted on the wall at the entrance:
"This exhibition tells five stories about Stein and the sensorium of seeing, taking seriously the writer’s repeated insistence that eyes “were more important than ears.” Story one, “Picturing Gertrude,” presents portraits of Stein, who modeled freely for artists. The second story, “Domestic Stein,” looks at the lesbian partnership of Stein and Alice B. Toklas, focusing on their distinctive dress, home décor, hospitality, food, and pets. “Art of Friendship” explores Stein’s relationships and collaborations after World War I with the neoromantics, a circle of international artists who were young, male, and gay. “Celebrity Stein” tells of Stein’s triumphant return to the United States in 1934–35, and the last story, “Legacies,” explores her ongoing presence in contemporary art."
Corn and Latimer restore Alice as the essential figure she was in that sphere, and they deconstruct how both women dressed to announce and highlight their lesbianism and coupledom to the public. The curators also emphasize nine gay men in their circle: Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Carl Van Vechten, Virgil Thomson, Pavel Tchelitchew, George Platt Lynes, Francis Rose, Frederick Ashton, and Kristians Tonny. Forty years before Mapplethorpe, Lynes photographed white Frederick Ashton standing clothed amid three reclining nude black male dancers from Four Saints in Three Acts. Far from degaying the image, the text by the photos explains choreographer Ashton had sex with at least two of the company's male principals.
Seeing Gertrude Stein began at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. If you missed it there and are unlikely to be in DC before January 22, get the show's smart, fascinating companion book.
At yesterday’s memorial service for Frank Kameny [see AP's story], each speaker praised his fiery, ornery, valiant pioneering of gay rights activism, with Tammy Baldwin quoting Emerson’s “...go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Barney Frank expressed gratitude for a forerunner who proved it possible “to be a leader in the gay rights movement without an obligation to dress well.” Barney also honored Kameny as a “great strategist” and acknowledged his “profound insight” that “the gap between their bigotry and who we are is so great their case would inevitably collapse.” Eleanor Holmes Norton said Kameny stands “alongside the nation’s great human rights champions” and compared him to Rosa Parks. Tripling that, Yale law professor William Eskridge tried to claim that Kameny was our Rosa Parks, our Martin Luther King Jr., and our Thurgood Marshall. Yet isn’t what makes Kameny’s struggle so noble that he persevered largely alone and often in obscurity, without the support of millions of followers and media celebrity, and without the Supreme stature, earned by Dr. King and Justice Marshall?
But everyone agreed that Kameny would have loved the impressive service in the grand caucus hall of the Cannon building, organized by Kameny Papers Project cofounders, Bob Witeck and Charles Francis, my pard. In his opening remarks Charles pointed out that the event was taking place 50 years to the day after Kameny formed the Mattachine Society of DC, and was held in the very room where the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee got an indignant earful from Kameny on the subject of the government’s banning gay employees. As Barney Frank said, Kameny was the “walking repudiation of the notion of the shrinking violet.” He added, “I never met anyone less inclined to shade his opinion.” Charles also noted that Kameny’s military grave marker and an additional plaque reading “Gay Is Good,” will lie in Congressional Cemetery near Leonard Matlovich’s and “just far enough away” from Hoover’s and Clyde Tolson’s.
In another historic first, two documents from the Frank Kameny archives are now on display in the Library of Congress's ongoing show "Creating the United States." The inclusion marks the first time the library has displayed papers advocating LGBT equality, and they have not ghettoized the LGBT artifcats but incorporated them as a natural component of the exhibit on the Constitution, which opened in April 2008. My partner was instrumental in getting Kameny's papers into the library's permanent collection and he has the first quote in the AP story out today:
“This inclusion is an epic milestone in the telling of gay history because it places gay Americans’ struggle for equality where it belongs — in the story of the Constitution itself,” Charles Francis, a founder of the Kameny Papers Project, told The Associated Press.
The two documents are Kameny's petition to the Supreme Court -- which we now know was rejected 9-0 fifty years ago this spring -- and John Macy's infamous "Revulsion Letter" to Kameny, establishing the government's antigay policy for decades. The papers will be on display approximately six months.
(Above, Charles' photo of Frank, 85, attending the exhibit.)
On April 1, her 53rd birthday, Susan Burns of Arlington, Virginia physically attacked Gauguin's painting Two Tahitian Women in the National Gallery because, she said, “I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children. He has two women in the painting and it’s very homosexual. I was trying to remove it. I think it should be burned.” Burns has a history of mental illness, has been convicted of throwing shoes in stores and hurling a full cup of coffee at a bartender, for which she served 2.5 years in prison, the longest of her three lock-ups. Though the frame sustained minor damage, the painting was unhurt.
On Palm Sunday, after escalating protests by conservative Catholics and the National Front in Avignon, four vandals age 18 to 25 swung hammers and pickaxes to slashing two photographs by the New York-based Honduran-Afro-Cuban artist Andres Serrano: The Church, which depicts a nun's hands in prayer, and Immersion (Piss Christ), which shows a crucifix submerged in a jar of his urine.
The Guardian reports:
Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianize France, launched an online petition and mobilised other fundamentalist groups. The staunchly conservative archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called Piss Christ "odious" and said he wanted this "trash" taken off the gallery walls. Last week the gallery complained of "extremist harassment" by fundamentalist Christian groups who wanted the work banned in France.
Lambert, one of France's best known art dealers.. likened the atmosphere to "a return to the middle ages."
On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery. The protest group included a regional councillor for the extreme-right Front National, which recently scored well in the Vaucluse area in local elections. The gallery immediately stepped up security, putting plexiglass in front of the photograph and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it.
But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object.
The gallery director, Eric Mézil, said it would reopen with the destroyed works on show "so people can see what barbarians can do".
The paper says the incident "has plunged secular France into soul-searching about Christian fundamentalism and Sarkozy's use of religious populism in his bid for re-election next year."
Elsewhere in the French government, openly gay Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand condemned the attack saying, “I’m shocked that someone can go into a museum, assault the guards and destroy an art work. This is unacceptable. If one is offended by a piece of art one should make a formal complaint at law: this is a fundamental principle of the French Republic. Any act of violence, destruction, and intolerance is unacceptable.”
Today the Smithsonian hosts an eleven-hour symposium called "Addressing (and Redressing) the Silence: New Scholarship in Sexuality and American Art." The event, "gathers American art historians who will propose and promote new paradigms for understanding the fraught relationship between sexuality and portraiture. In 11 papers spanning 100 years of American history, themes of racial, sexual and gendered difference will be reassessed to yield new interpretations of the history of modern American art." The complete schedule is below.
On Monday, January 31 at 1:00pm, Art Positive and other activists will again protest the removal of David Wojnarowicz's video Fire in My Belly and, in turn, demand the removal of Smithsonian head Wayne Clough. Full details here. (Image via.)
If you can't make the show in the next two weeks, buy the catalog to keep forever.
9:15–10:45 Archives and Discovery 9:15–9:50 Jonathan Weinberg, Lost and Found: Searching for the Lesbian and Gay Presence in the Archives of American Art
9:15–10:45 Archives and Discovery
9:15–9:50 Jonathan Weinberg, Lost and Found: Searching for the Lesbian and Gay Presence in the Archives of American Art
9:50–10:25 Joe Lucchesi, The Body’s Shadow: On Archives, Photographs, and Queer Desire
11:00–1:15 Racing Desires
11:00–11:35 Tavia Nyong’o, The Confidence Man as Painted Lady: Dandyism and Transgendered Self-Fashioning in Antebellum New York
11:35–12:10 Tirza Latimer, Modernism’s Other Others: Faith Ringgold’s Dinner at Gertrude Stein’s
12:10–12:45 Diana Linden, “I Am a Man!”: Race and Gender in William Christopher’s Paintings in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
1:15–2:15 Lunch and opportunity to view the exhibition, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.”
2:30–4:45 Desire at Mid-century
2:30–3:05 James Boaden, Jess’ Imaginary Portraits
3:05–3:40 Jonathan D. Katz, The Sexuality of Abstraction: Agnes Martin
3:40–4:15 Dominic Johnson, Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, or the Burden of Disgust
5:15–8:00 Desire and the Public
5:15–5:50 Chris Reed, Imagining Identity: Sexuality, Regionalism, and Legacy in Mid-20th Century American Art
5:50–6:25 David Getsy, Open Seating: Scott Burton, Performance Art, Public Art, and the 1970s
6:25–7:00 Jennifer Doyle, Hold It Against Me: Difficulty, Emotion, and David Wojnarowicz
In an exclusive, Band of Thebes can report that Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black yesterday met with gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny as background for their upcoming biopic of J. Edgar Hoover. The hour-long meeting, requested by DiCaprio and Black, took place in Kameny's home in the Palisades neighborhood of Washington, D.C. A close source reports that Kameny, 85, "was on his game, funny and insightful," while discussing his years of early gay and lesbian activism with the Mattachine Society, often a target of FBI investigations.
The movie, J. Edgar, co-stars The Social Network's Armie Hammer as Hoover's longtime partner Clyde Tolson and Judi Dench as Hoover's mother.
The most surprising aspect of J. Edgar is its director, Clint Eastwood, 80. A straightforward biopic of a vicious closet case seems at odds with the unbroken line of noble underdogs and suffering heroism of his recent films. Moreover, the major revelations of two of those movies, Mystic River and Changeling, hinge on violent, even murderous, gay pedophilia. J. Edgar is co-produced by Ron Howard, who insisted on leaving a homophobic joke in his new underperforming The Dilemma, and by Brian Grazer, who produced the degayed A Beautiful Mind.
Pure speculation, but one clue to J. Edgar's storyline comes from its casting: Josh Lucas plays Charles Lindbergh and Damon Herriman is convicted kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann. Hoover is said to have taken an interest in police wrongdoing on the Lindbergh baby case and to have questioned the way the trial was conducted. A plot built around the "Crime of the Century," particularly the inconsistencies in evidence against Hauptmann, allegations of police brutality and tampering, underscored by the 1930s anti-immigrant, anti-German mood would be a logical fit with Eastwood's martyr oeuvre (Gran Torino) and historical re-examinations (Letters from Iwo Jima). It would seem natural for Dustin Lance Black to mirror the mysteries and secrets in the chasm between public persona and private reality rampant in Lindbergh's, Hauptmann's, and Hoover's lives.
J. Edgar is slated for a 2012 release.
Philip Kennicott, a Washington Post staff writer, has published a tough commentary demanding the resignation of Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough, who made the decision to remove the David Wojnarowicz video from Hide/Seek after a right-wing protest. Kennicott says the decision "showed an astonishing lack of perception about the humanities as well as the dynamics of museum culture. It was tactically, strategically and historically stupid." Summarizing the aftermath, he writes:
"The removal of the video was a tiny gesture of exclusion meant to thwart the powerful march of democratic openness that museums in general, and this exhibition in particular, exemplify.
"Thus: Gays are allowed to be seen in the museum, but not entirely; scholars control the agenda, unless bureaucrats countermand them; new forms of the sacred can be represented, unless old defenders of the sacred take offense."
Last week, another artist in Hide/Seek, AA Bronson of Canada, asked the Portrait Gallery to remove his large-scale photograph "Felix, June 5, 1994" in protest of the museum's caving to censorship. The museum has refused, claiming the legal right to keep the work in the exhibit. Kennicott argues they must let Bronson remove his photograph:
"Although it would harm the integrity of the show, allowing Bronson to remove his work would create a large symbolic hole in the exhibition, a blank space on the wall, which could be explained as a marker of the Smithsonian's mistake and the aggression of outside forces that resist the powerful, democratic agenda of the modern museum at its best.
"That agenda, the result of decades of efforts at reforming an institution that once bluntly manifested state and class power (through architecture, art and hierarchical social codes), is the backdrop against which Clough made his ill-fated decision. The modern museum has evolved from a straightforward display of power - this is Culture, so genuflect, ye masses - to a paradoxical place where old forms of power and discipline are harnessed to create new kinds of debate and criticism."
Hide/Seek runs through February 13. See it. If you can't, buy the catalog, still only $29.70.
I wish it weren't the case that the male curators' energy and insight is usually deepest on the male works and weaker, more shallow, and more obvious regarding lesbian art.
"Through her photographs, Cass Bird asserts the positive existence of people who subvert and push the perceived boundaries of gender specification. She thereby suggests a world that is polymorphous, indeterminate, and androgynous. In this photograph, taken on a rooftop in Brooklyn, Bird's friend Macaulay stares out from under a cap emblazoned with the words, "I Look Just Like My Daddy." Macaulay's gender -- powerfully self-determined against societal assumptions of what it means to be male or female -- is ambiguous. Her cap's proclamation is likewise ambiguous -- perhaps it is true, perhaps it is an ironic statement of an expectation that will never be realized. Bird's sensitivity toward lives that both resist and intersect with accepted notions of gender and family informs her entire photographic practice."
Given the Smithsonian's censoring David Wojnarowicz's ants on a crucifix from Hide/Seek, it's appropriate to feature this week the image curators worried would spark the greatest outcry, Brotherhood, Crossroads, Etcetera. As religious groups trample the public square, we're wading deeper into cultural quicksand where cartoons, art, speech, ideas are erased from everyone's view if anyone is offended. You don't need to have seen Hitler and the Germans this week to know that's the path to disaster. But we live in a time of enormous cowardice in which no one at the public pulpit is willing to tell religious institutions to keep it in their houses of worship. And by and large LGBT people have reached a level of comfort we don't want to jeopardize by complaining. Or we're too busy.
Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, invites public comment at npgnews [at] si.edu or send an old-fashioned letter to NPG, PO Box 37012, MRC 973, Washington DC 20013. The museum's general phone number is (202) 633-8300.
Hide/Seek is on view at the NPG through February 13. See it and buy the catalog.
"...the Harris brothers weave a complex visual allegory that invokes ancient African cosmologies, Judeo-Christian myths, and taboo public and private desires. In this provocative center image, the brothers exchange a passionate kiss as Thomas presses a gun into Lyle's chest -- conjuring the original biblical story of Cain's treachery toward his brother, Abel...'As black queer cultural producers, we are celebrating the liberatory potential of this black nationalist icon [UNIA's tricolor flag] by expanding the notion of who may claim to it,' Lyle explains. The image transgresses many dualisms we use to structure society: male vs. female, black vs. white, 'brotherly love' vs. homosexual desire. And it raises provocative questions surrounding themes of domestic abuse between lovers, perceived violence among black men, and the dangers that come from engaging in an 'illicit' love -- whether it be from disease, homophobia, or a lethal combination of the two."
"...it would be a mistake to see his working in an American vernacular as a simple retreat from modernism. Instead, he inflected traditional forms and subjects with a knowing take on art history and the complexity of social mores; he was a notable satirist, for instance, of American pieties, and his landscapes are so stylized that they become abstractions. In Arnold Comes of Age, the wistful youth set against the homoerotic scene in the background suggest the tension and difficulties faced by gay men who stayed behind in Middle America--or gay men, as was Wood, who returned to their native grounds after realizing they could not find a home in the big cities of America or Europe either."
For much deeper look at this portrait and the artist, read Tripp Evans' revelatory Grant Wood: A Life, newly out from Knopf.
For anyone visiting the greater DC area over Thanksgiving, a trip to the Smithsonian's Hide/Seek show is mandatory enlightenment.
Romaine Brooks, Self-Portrait, 1923
The must-have catalog by Jonathan Katz and David Ward says the artist
"...deploys a complex set of codes and pictorial conventions to assert her membership in the elite coterie of lesbians living in Paris between the world wars... Her position on a balcony, the threshold between public and private space -- her sleek masculinized attire coupled with her brightly rouged lips and thickly powdered face, the shadow that obscures (but does not mask) her eyes -- all signify, in various ways, her self-conscious performance of a lesbian identity. As a wealthy woman, Brooks never had to sell her paintings to support her art, so she was freer than most artists to accurately portray the largely queer social universe she inhabited."
[Click the image for a closer view, including her eyes.]
Curator Jonathan Katz considers Thomas Eakins' Salutat one of the masterpieces of American painting. He told me he was particularly thrilled to be able to include it in Hide/Seek. So, unless you spend a lot of time hanging with the preppies at Andover, you haven't seen Salutat in person; this is your chance.
Salutat by Thomas Eakins, 1898
"...Yet Easkins turns Gilded Age conventions of the male gaze on their head. By making the object of desire an undraped male instead of a nude female, Eakins resisted social norms. He furthered his deviation from convention by having his boxer not box, thus stripping away the sole acceptable rationale for contemplating a nearly naked male form. The crowd is not admiring the boxer's jab, but his body, especially his buttocks. The boxer is also hardly a paragon of masculine power: he was a featherweight twenty-two year-old working-class lad named Billy Smith, who became much admired in Eakins' circle for his continuing devotion to the painter."
My parents toured the Hide/Seek exhibit in DC this week and loved it. If they can make time to go, so can you. And if you can't, then get the catalog.
One year ago today Michelangelo Signorile posted an essential piece noting of the 80 LGBT action items that our leading rights groups wanted the Obama administration to accomplish in its first weeks -- many of which did not require Congress -- only one item had been achieved by November 2009. The Task Force's Executive Director Rea Carey had called these action points "low-hanging fruit" that could be "made very easily," and its website hosted a "score sheet" to track their progress.
Between Signorile's follow-up and the recent midterms, the Task Force erased the unmet checklist of 80 goals and replaced it with this list of only 9 items, all with check marks. Suddenly, the administration's score jumped from 11% to a 100% success rate.
Although the headline of the new page encourages readers to "Review Policy Recommendations," it offers zero outstanding priorities and highlights only the few recommendations already finished. How does it empower our movement to erase our goals, and how can we accurately measure our accomplishments if the yardstick is invisible?
London's GFest, the capital's leading LGBT cross-arts festival, including visual arts, theatre, dance and performance, LGBT short films, debates, workshops and parties, began yesterday and carries on through Sunday, November 21. Only in its fourth year, the fest features more than 100 artists at events in the city's most august spaces, including the National Gallery, the V&A, Hampstead Town Hall, the Westminster Reference Library, and select screening rooms. Their site boasts official messages of support from Sarah Waters, Peter Tatchell, Stephen Fry, many MPs, the mayor, and the Prime Minister.
Beginning tonight and running through Sunday, November 14 is Mix NYC, the New York Queer Experimental Film Festival. Now in it's 23rd year, it's the city's oldest LGBT film festival, founded by author activist Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard in 1987. Since then, it has grown to include boundary pushing live performances and art installations. The six nights of film and video presentations run the gamut from several collections of shorts -- including ten minutes on Billy Strayhorn -- to the French documentary Too Much Pussy (right) about the European road tour of seven sex-radical women, "activists, artists, writers, musicians, sex workers, porn stars," to a piece called 50 Faggots celebrating a wide range of effeminate men defiant against the last three decades' love affair with "straight acting," to Bruce La Bruce's closing night world premiere of his revamped undead bloodbath L.A. Zombie: Hardcore. It's great praise, and desperately needed in our public homo homogeneity, to say that at Mix NYC not everything is for everyone. Thank god.
Reworking a classic with a twist, three black queer women poets are embarking on a four city tour inspired by the salons of yesteryear, called The Revival. In each location -- DC, Philly, Brooklyn, Baltimore -- they will perform with a local poet, and the event will not be in bookstores but in private homes open to the public. The spoken-word concerts, with music and more, will break "the envelope of safe space for today's queer artists and allies." As inspiring in its originalty as it is intimate in its setting, the tour features (left to right, below) LOVE the poet, Venus Thrash, and J. Pope. Promising a night that is "sexy, vibrant, and diverse," they say they are "connecting women, creators, and changemakers." Exact locations in each city are posted here, where you can buy advance tickets for $10. At the door they will be $15.
November 11, Washington, DC, with lowercaseletters.
November 12, Philadelphia, with Ms. Wise.
November 13, Brooklyn, with Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene.
November 14, Baltimore, with Queen Earth.
Fun day on the mall. Many signs I could not shoot to document: God Hates Nags, God Hates Flags, God Hates Martians, I Hate Crowds, This Sign Is Too Small, This Side Intentionally Left Blank, I Masturbate and I Vote, Allow Gays in Hammas Now, Don't Be a Douche, Use Your Inside Voice, Fear Is the Reason for Death, I Enjoy Pancakes, Down with Zippers, I Like Turtles, Moderation = Tyranny.
click to embiggen.
Jonathan Katz came of age at the worst moment possible for someone interested in lgbt curating, just as the Corcoran's cancellation of the Mapplethorpe show cemented the museum world's cowardice on queer art. That prejudice was still evident two decades later, as he was pitching his groundbreaking new exhibit of queer portraiture, Hide/Seek, to the nation's top museums, all of whom said no, except for the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, where he joined forces with co-curator David Ward. Though overdue, the Smithsonian's decision to mount this first of its kind exhibit in the US warrants sustained praise. By a lucky fluke, I was seated next to Jonathan at Friday's opening dinner and halfway through the meal he mentioned that his proposal package included Band of Thebes' essay on the Met's degayed Greek and Roman galleries.
Jonathan cut an original list of thousands of images to a bare bones, must-have total of 486 works that he wanted to hang salon-style covering every inch of wall space. No chance. The NPG demurred and, after he reduced his wish list, many other museums rejected the loan requests, often specifically because the show is lgbt. The homophobia was not limited to heterosexuals. Gay curators, gay collectors, and gay donors were among those who responded with hostility, accusing Jonathan of projecting his agenda onto asexual art, complaining he was "outing" an artist who died 94 years ago, or claiming that lending a work to such a show would reduce its value.
Deserving of special note is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose curators approved every loan request saying, We're agreeing to all of them because we know other museums won't. Also noteworthy: Jasper Johns lent his own work for the show, despite having been reticent about his private life for decades. Hide/Seek is made possible by funding from an unprecedented coalition of 115 donors (disclosure, including my partner), led by the Calamus Foundation and our very handsome/generous friends Don Capoccia and Tommie Pegues.
As for the 105 works that made it into the show, they're a dazzling range of photographs (Thomas Eakins' Walt Whitman; Berenice Abbott's Janet Flanner; Carl van Vechten's Bessie Smith; George Platt Lynes' Ralph McWilliams; Walker Evans' Lincoln Kirstein; Ceil Beaton's Gertrude and Alice; Nan Goldin's Misty and Jimmy Paulette; Robert Mapplethorpe's happy self-portrait, nude Lisa Lyon, disembodied Roy Cohn, S&M couple, and his own death mask; Peter Hujar's David Wojnarowicz and Susan Sontag; Annie Leibovitz's Ellen DeGeneres; Lyle Ashton Harris's 'Brotherhood;' Catherine Opie's dyke buds; and self-portraits by Laura Aguilar, Mark Morrisroe, Anthony Goicolea, and Jack Pierson; among others), installations by Robert Gober and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and dozens of paintings or sketches whose aggregate is unparalleled queer magnificence. Highlights: Thomas Eakins, George Bellows, John Singer Sargent, Romaine Brooks, Marsden Hartley, Paul Cadmus, Grant Wood, Georgia O'Keeffe, Robert Rauschenberg, Alice Neel, Larry Rivers, David Hockney, Andrew Wyeth, and Andy Warhol.
The only thing I actively dislike about the show is its degayed subtitle, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. The exhibit is queer portraits, period. 'Difference' isn't just closety, it's unhelpful. Because of the weak title, the Washington Post's museum listing says only, the show "illustrates the changing social attitudes toward sexual difference and how it is depicted." What's that? Straight male macrophilia? Straight women into plushies? Abstainers? Tantrics? Onanists? Last year's show at London's National Portrait Gallery was called, Gay Icons. Clear and simple.
Given the wait-and-see caution of the museum world, the future of similar shows absolutely hinges on the attendance and catalog sales of Hide/Seek. If you live anywhere near DC, go early and often. You will need multiple viewings to absorb it all. If don't live near, plan a trip between now and February 13. If you can't visit, buy the beautiful, brilliant catalog.
To indicate my commitment, I will feature one work from the show each week through 2010.