Archive for the ‘video’ Tag

It Gets Better

The federal government agency I work for created an It Gets Better video.

Spectacular New Show

Walk through the Portrait Gallery’s second floor and you’ll see a montage of Elvis photographs, part of their exhibit on the great rock n roll star.

Down the hall is a painting of another famous icon: Andy Warhol. His face is covered over with streaks of color. The text aside the 1986 piece asks, is Warhol hiding?

The new show at the Portrait Gallery is called Hide and Seek. It is the first federal government sponsored show on issues related to art and gays, lesbians, and homosexuality.

The show is part of the Gallery’s missions: to depict the lives of individuals who have had a significant impact on American live and culture and to show major themes in American history, the struggle for justice and for all citizens to reach America’s promise of equality and inclusion.

Now that the opening text validates the reasons for holding the show, one can enjoy the range of types of art, the scope of years covered: about 120 in total, and the rich description that provides context for most of the pieces.

Video art ranges from the frustration of David Wojnarowicz, who engaged in art that confronted the apathy toward the AIDS epidemic in the mid 1980s, to the famous Pink Narcissus, a depiction of a single person growing up in the artists’ apartment in the late 1960s.

There are many artists who play with the symbols of gender in their photography. Males don wigs, females moustaches and other elements in what societies have deemed only appropriate for one sex or the other. This ranges from Marcel Duchamp during the 1920s, through the more recent work of Christopher Makos and Catherine Opie.

A series of photographs made by Carl Van Vechten show famous individuals in the entertainment and other realms during the 1920s through 1940s. The people were important figures in the Harlem Renaissance and homosexual cultures within the theater and writing circles. Van Vechten frequently Harlem and other parts of cities that historian Kevin Mumford called, Interzones: locations on the edges of usually African American neighborhoods where people on the margins of the mainstream could have nightclubs and congregation spaces freer from police intrusions. San Francisco had the Tenderloin District and Los Angeles had West Hollywood.

Several artists surprised me with bawdy depcitions. Many of us have seen the humorous classicism of Paul Cadmus. George Bellows showed a meeting in a male bathhouse in New York City. Jess Burgess Collins’s 1954 collage called The Mouse’s Tail includes a range of hot men clipped from physique magazines popular in the 1940s and early 1950s. Duane Michals’ 1970 photo series captures a cruising situation familiar to urban gay males.

J C Leyendecker, the creator of the Arrow Shirt Man, painted an oil painting that featured these iconic figures two decades  earlier. His Arrow Shirt man, popular in the 1930s, evoked for me a series of Paramount Studio photographs showing actors Randolph Scott and Cary Grant in their Malibu Beach house from 1933-1942. One photograph is below:

The two most emotional pieces for me came from Robert Mapplethorpe and Keith Haring. Mapplethorpe’s photograph of Roy Cohn is eerie and captures the contradictions of a man who sleeps with man and who promotes the distaste for the homosexual community. Haring’s unfinished painting from 1989, evokes his untimely death one year later.

Is Warhol hiding in his painting? Probably in a similar way to Hollywood, which had a style that us historians have called, the Open Secret. In the 1920s and 1930s, gossip pages followed Hollywood stars who went to see female impersonators at clubs in West Hollywood. Warhol hung at the sexually ambiguous night club Studio 54 in the 1970s. Hollywood gossip columns contained code words that carried hints to the in the know crowd and probably to many other newspaper readers as well.