Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are
November 7, 2010 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, "is the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture."

This is also the first ever federally-backed gay art exhibition. Lecture by curator David C. Ward. Washington Post review. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, the companion volume to the exhibit.
posted by kirkaracha (24 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I enjoyed that. Thank you, kirkaracha. I guess we should enjoy it while we can. I fear that the federally-backed gay art exibitions will be banned in the near future.
posted by wv kay in ga at 8:16 PM on November 7, 2010

If we're goin East for Christmas this year, I'll find away to see this. The Portrait Gallery and American Art are two of the things I miss most about living in DC. Than you for this!
posted by rtha at 8:23 PM on November 7, 2010

Gah typos.
posted by rtha at 8:24 PM on November 7, 2010

I fear that the federally-backed gay art exibitions will be banned in the near future.

"Banned" is a strong word. Actually it was not so long ago demagogues on the right were using federally funded gay art as a whipping boy. You don't see that so much anymore.

Even Wyeth, though apparently straight as they come, couldn't resist the appeal of a beautiful man conceived as an object of lust. In 1979, when Wyeth was 62, he painted a picture of an athletic young neighbor standing naked in a clearing, arms on unclothed hips and with his blond hair blowing in the wind. This is not a tasteful, artified nude, on the model of Michelangelo's "David." It is fully, impressively frontal, indistinguishable from the kind of corny gay cheesecake we could never run in this paper.

This is why, for me, seeing an exhibition like this is much more interesting than seeing a random collection of fine pieces. This would have been totally lost on me, but this context gives it depth.
posted by three blind mice at 10:04 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some really wonderful work here. Thank you.
posted by clockzero at 10:12 PM on November 7, 2010

I remember being in Chicago this year, and seeing two tiny and exquisite Charles Demuth , that were just aching with this lust filled masculinity; but also in code, so if you knew who these people were, and where they were, it had an erotic luminosity, but if you had no idea, it was a tiny little thing in a room of other tiny little things. this was the best one and the only one online--called "on that street"

later this year, i saw this painting by Eakins in Philadelphia, and standing in front of it--with the chest aching against the white shirt, the clean face--Eakins has done so many other photos and paintings of boys, and his set on Whitman, so i put him on the queer camp, but this painting, with its dedication to an American kind of beauty, had a freedom to it that strikes me as uniquely about that time and place. (self link, sorry

or like the curator a few years ago who put Jack Peirson's Kurt Cobain piece here, next to David Wojoanwicz's This Boy piece (which a few people have noted has strong resonances with the It Gets Better videos--its in the collection at SAG, so maybe Savage notices it) ,peice here both about language, desire, hiding, suicide and ambiguity the connections as present and tenuous as spider silk. (there is an updating of that done last year by Ryan Conrad:that is only tangentially related, but i think every single person should see it

Or how difficult and how estranged Johns pieces are, if you know that he liked boys, and he liked Rberg more then most boys, and how lots of his most famous pieces are about Rberg or about boys, or about the queer body distended and fragmented for liking boys. (Johnathon Ned Katz, who consulted for this show, writes about the art worlds homophobic censoring of this history in an essay called art of code which is almost nessc. for dealing with queer art and artists in the second half of the 20th century.

Queer art historians and queer artists spend lots of time telling these stories, these little tidbits, that work as a shadow history, if and when they get into the big spaces (and it is easier for white gay men to drop the little subversive bombs everywhere, because we are coasting on the privilege of masculinity, race, and often class.)

This show is really important, as important as the new Woods bio,ny times review because all of those stories told in bars, in parlors, at openings among like minded fellows, as pillow talk is allowed to be part of the national sphere. we are letting our stories be told. The hide and seek, which is still part of queer discourse and which still punishes people for being too out, is slowing becoming a per formative construction. This gives me hope.

As for the work in the show, I have only read the catalog, but a few things:

a) the Alice Neel of O Hara (esp. Ed Koch and Warhol) is a really strong piece, and a collection of Neel's gay male portraits says a lot about her hang ups, and the hang ups of her time--the O Hara one is not the best, and for someone who had so many people paint or photograph him (including, maybe not this one. There is an entire book of art by and about O Hara, called in Memory of my Feelings--based on the Johns that I talk about below: "google book result here
b) I wanted more young folks and more people of colour.
c) Starting with Eakins is obv. impt, esp. Whitman by Eakins--like the Pound poem, Eakins took Whitman at his word, and moved onward from that.
d) Marsden Hartley--sweet abstractions, a little dun colored, but then you hear the whole story, of romance, and a solider, and loss--it becomes a narrative of singles marked by rupture and lacunae--like lots and lots of stories of men who are not allowed to tell of how they want to or have had sex with men.
e) Terry Castle, the lesbian critic, wrote an appreciation of Janet Flanner in her book of essays The Apparitional Lesbian. (could not find a link to the whole essay, but get the book!) The opening paragraphs were about those Abbot fotos, and I wonder if that foto functioned in chic lesbian parisian circles (Nathalie Barney, et al) as the Eakins/Whitman fotos functioned in anglo-american ones (Symonds et al)
f) Instead of one of Rberg's cantos--the Twombly drawing Hyacinth from 1965--which is canonically read as vaginal, but it might as well be a Rimbaudan hymn to the asshole) but hes still a live, and a little litigious (though that applies to Johns, who never lets anyone queer his work (cf the bio Privileged Information, by the feminist Critic Jill Johnson, who wrote her entire biography on the paintings after he threatened to sue ) and hes in this
g) The Johns here with its quotation of O Hara's poetry (the work was based on this and the first few lines have a sense of homoerotic interoirty that is eerie in how it connects to Johns) and aesthetic sense (i.e how he was between the ab-exers and the emerging pop stars, but only the butch ones), its overwhelming grey blackness, and its heavy imposition of an almost corporeal angst, was also in the show Grey--i always thot that Johns grey work were the height of gay melancholia, like Morrissey but earlier, and the Grey show never talked about the implications of this work. (the Grey show started at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 2007. The catalog is well worth getting if you can find it, though the essays are an epic exercise in missing the point)
h) Hujar of Sontag, lots of things going for it, esp. the heritage of representation, but Sontag's sexual politics are murky, and the foto is much less queer then for example, his deathbed portrait of Candy Darling--right artist but wrong subject (the Hujar of Candy Darling was used by Antony on an album from 2005--bringing the intergenerational thing full circle--here is a copy of it: "that the image is so iconic, and so heart rending, and about trans death, and cancer, it would have deepened the narrative.
i) I'm really liking the critical revival of 80s Warhol, and the camouflage work, with his inability to blend in, even when using the tools of that blending, is so fucking self aware.
j) i cried when i saw that haring for the first time, my heart leapt up and strangled my throat. i wish that other Torres get as much attention as the piles. esp. the clocks: those clocks are memento mori in the age of mechanical reproduction for me

There is more to do, and it is in many ways a safe show (Mapplethorpe's X Portfolio, considering it;s history, would be fantastic here; or maybe some dyke performance, or Demuth's bathhouse or sailor drawings, or Catherine Opie, or etc forever), but fantastic nonetheless.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:13 PM on November 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

"the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture."

Only because the GREAT National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington DC) isn't considered major.

But it's w o n d e r f u l . . .
posted by IAmBroom at 10:31 PM on November 7, 2010

Oops, my bad. I assumed the "sexual difference" was "gender difference".
posted by IAmBroom at 10:37 PM on November 7, 2010

I'd never seen the Keith Haring piece (in the AIDS section of the gallery) before. I think it's the first time a painting has moved me to tears, and in an instant, at that. Thanks for a very interesting post.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:36 PM on November 7, 2010

The Keith Haring work is so wonderful and still deeply painful simultaneously.
posted by nickrussell at 1:33 AM on November 8, 2010

What an outstanding show ! Once I send this link to my wife, I'm certain that a trip to DC will be in our immediate future. Thanks for the link.
posted by lobstah at 4:58 AM on November 8, 2010

Which Wyeth painting is the Washington Post article referring to?
posted by ocherdraco at 6:25 AM on November 8, 2010

am disappointed there's no basquiat.
posted by liza at 6:30 AM on November 8, 2010

Which Wyeth painting is the Washington Post article referring to?

This one.
posted by incandenza at 6:48 AM on November 8, 2010

I'd never seen the Keith Haring piece (in the AIDS section of the gallery) before. I think it's the first time a painting has moved me to tears, and in an instant, at that. Thanks for a very interesting post.

posted by schmod at 7:03 AM on November 8, 2010

basquit wasn't queer.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:16 AM on November 8, 2010

I managed to score an invite to the Rauschenberg memorial service, as one of my friends from high school worked as a printer for him. It was interesting how, with only around 100 people there and almost all of them people that knew him personally, how vague everyone was on his sexuality. Johns spoke, as did a few other Rauschenberg lovers, but there was this odd sense of unresolved sexuality there, and if you hadn't known about his life, it would have been incredibly normal and normative to just assume he was straight (his son was there). Even the man he'd lived with for the last 25 years never said lover, and often said "colleague."
posted by klangklangston at 9:11 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Score an invite" to the memorial service?
posted by grobstein at 9:20 AM on November 8, 2010

can you talk more about that experience klang?
posted by PinkMoose at 10:16 AM on November 8, 2010

""Score an invite" to the memorial service?"

Yeah. It was a celebration of his life held at the Aratani/Japan America Theater in Los Angeles. About a hundred people came, including my friend who had worked at Gemini Printing, who were Rauschenberg's printers for the last, what, forty years or so. As he was working with screenprinting quite a bit, the print shop was integral. My friend had worked with him a bit, though never as lead printer. Mostly, she was dragging squeegees across his screens.

She asked if I wanted to come, knowing that I dig art. I said "Oh, of course, yes, yes, yes."

I just pulled out the program and one of the things that I note is that Johns isn't listed as speaking, though I remember him giving some brief remarks. I think, or at least hope, that was out of deference to Darryl Pottorf, who was clearly just in absolute reverential awe of Rauschenberg, but said things like, "I was lucky to be his colleague."
posted by klangklangston at 12:36 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

basquit wasn't queer.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:16 AM on November 8


of course he was queer. his early sexual experiences were gay; he was a teen gay hustler and it's not until in his 20s that he "comes out" as bisexual. one of his most famous dalliances was with a yet not superfamous Madonna.

so, nope, sorry. unless you don't consider bisexuals queer, there's no way Basquiat is not queer.
posted by liza at 1:23 PM on November 8, 2010


of course I consider bisexuality queer, I just thot that his earliest sexual experiences were as a hustler, and did not position them as anything but trade. (though why he was doing trade considering his parents professional status should have occurred to me)
posted by PinkMoose at 2:31 PM on November 8, 2010

i was thinking about this, and i think that gay male sexuality was so reliant on trade, and so much work was made about trade, and the political implications of trade is so vital, its endlessly naive for me to exclude it, even (and this might be in dispute) that basquit was just trade.
posted by PinkMoose at 2:58 PM on November 9, 2010

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