Posts Tagged ‘Cass Bird

04
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘American Cool’ at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

Exhibition dates: 7th February – 7th September 2014

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled' from the 'Brooklyn Gang' series 1959

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled from the Brooklyn Gang series
1959

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville, 1966' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville, 1966
1966
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Each cool figure was considered with the following historical rubric in mind and possesses at least three elements of this singular American self-concept:

  1. an original artistic vision carried off with a signature style
  2. cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation
  3. iconic power, or instant visual recognition
  4. a recognized cultural legacy

Every individual here created an original persona without precedent in American culture. These photographs capture the complex relationship between the real-life person, the image embraced by fans and the media, and the person’s artistic work.

What does it mean when a generation claims a certain figure as cool? What qualities does this person embody at that historical moment? American Cool explores these questions through photography, history, and popular culture. In this exhibition, cool is rendered visible, as shot by some of the finest art photographers of the past century.

 

 

When less – less famous, less obvious – is more

I don’t know about you, but the photographs chosen to represent American “cool” in this exhibition – 39 of which are shown in the posting out of a total of 108, but the rest are mainly of the same ilk – seem to me to be a singularly strange bunch of images to choose for such a concept. Personally, I find very few of them are “cool”, that is a mixture of a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery with a certain self-made sense of style.

The only images that I find definitely “cool” among this bunch are, firstly Bob Dylan, closely followed by Jackson Pollock (notice the skull lurking behind him) and Susan Sontag. There is no proposition of cool in these three photographs, the people in them just are. The rest of the photographs, and there really are some atrociously plain and boring portraits among this lot (including a poor portrait of James Dean), really don’t speak to me of cool, don’t speak to me of anything much at all. How you could ever think that the portrait of Willie Nelson, 1989 (printed 2009, below) is cool is beyond me… and what is it with the reprints of the photographs, not originals but modern prints made years later? Perhaps the National Portrait Gallery needed to look beyond their own collection for a more rounded representation of American cool.

The two photographs I have included above are my top picks of American cool, and neither are in the exhibition. These iconic American images don’t feature famous people, they are not “posed” for the camera, and yet there is that ineffable something that makes the people in them absolutely, totally cool. THIS IS AMERICAN COOL: their own style, their own rebelliousness and mystery without possibly realising it = a naturalness that comes from doing their own thing, making their own way. Perhaps that is the point that this exhibition misses: you don’t have to be famous to be “cool”. A portrait is not just a mug shot. And an original persona does not have to come with fame attached.

This exhibition just doesn’t cut the mustard. The whole shebang needed a bloody good rethink, from the concept (does a generation have to “claim” someone is cool? is it necessary or desirable to portray American Cool through media images? do they have to be famous or instantly recognisable people to be “cool”) to the choice of images which could better illustrate the theme. Surely the qualities that person embodies changes from moment to moment, from photographer to photographer, from context to context (just look at the portraits of a haggard James Dean). To attempt to illustrate three elements in a single photograph – good luck with that one!

Marcus

PS I have added the videos to add a bit of spice to the proceedings… in them you can, occasionally, feel the charisma of the person.

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Many thankx to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Bob Willoughby. 'Billie Holiday' 1951 (printed 1991)

 

Bob Willoughby
Billie Holiday
1951 (printed 1991)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.2 x 35.3 cm. (19 15/16 x 13 15/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Rare live footage of one of the first anti rascism songs ever.

 

Roger Marshutz. 'Elvis Presley' 1956

 

Roger Marshutz
Elvis Presley
1956
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 40.6 x 50.8cm (16 x20″)
© Estee Stanley

 

 

Herman Leonard. 'Frank Sinatra' c. 1956

 

Herman Leonard
Frank Sinatra
c. 1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.5 x 24.1cm (6 1/2 x 9 1/2″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Marcia Resnick. 'David Byrne' 1981

 

Marcia Resnick
David Byrne
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.8 x 32.5 cm (8 9/16 x 12 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Julian Wasser. 'Joan Didion' 1970

 

Julian Wasser
Joan Didion
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.3 x 34 cm (9 9/16 x 13 3/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation.

 

Roy Schatt. 'James Dean' 1954

 

Roy Schatt
James Dean
1954
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.7 x 42.2cm (13 11/16 x 16 5/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

William Claxton. 'Steve McQueen' 1962

 

William Claxton
Steve McQueen
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image: 40 x 58.7cm (15 3/4 x 23 1/8″)
Fahey Klein Gallery

 

Martin Schoeller. 'Tony Hawk' 1999 (printed 2010)

 

Martin Schoeller
Tony Hawk
1999 (printed 2010)
Archival pigment print
Image: 58.5 x 58.6 cm (23 1/16 x 23 1/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

What do we mean when we say someone is cool? Cool carries a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery.

Cool is an original American sensibility and remains a global obsession. In the early 1940s, legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young brought this central African American concept into the modern vernacular. Cool became a password in bohemian life connoting a balanced state of mind, a dynamic mode of performance, and a certain stylish stoicism. A cool person has a situation under control, and with a signature style. Cool has been embodied in jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, in actors such as Robert Mitchum, Faye Dunaway, and Johnny Depp, and in singers such as Elvis Presley, Patti Smith, and Jay-Z. American Cool is a photography and cultural studies exhibition featuring portraits of such iconic figures, each of whom has contributed an original artistic vision to American culture symbolic of a particular historical moment. They emerged from a variety of fields: art, music, film, sports, comedy, literature, and political activism. American Cool is the zeitgeist taking embodied form.

American Cool is captured by a roll call of fine-art photographers from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Annie Leibovitz, from Richard Avedon to Herman Leonard to Diane Arbus. This exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with essays by Joel Dinerstein, the James H. Clark Endowed Chair in American Civilization and Director of the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University, and Frank H. Goodyear III, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and former curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"' 1975

 

Unidentified Artist
Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.3 x 25.1cm (6 13/16 x 9 7/8″)
The Kobal Collection

 

John Cohen. 'Jack Kerouac' 1959

 

John Cohen
Jack Kerouac
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.9 x 24.1cm (6 1/4 x 9 1/2″)
Sheet: 20.2 x 25.4cm (7 15/16 x 10″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Leo Fuchs. 'Paul Newman' 1959 (printed 2013)

 

Leo Fuchs
Paul Newman
1959 (printed 2013)
Modern archival print
Sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14″)
© Alexandre Fuchs

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Thelonious Monk at Minton's Playhouse, New York City' 1947

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Thelonious Monk at Minton’s Playhouse, New York City
1947
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 25.4 x 20.3cm (10 x 8″)
Estate of William Gottlieb

 

 

Thelonious Monk Quartet – Round Midnight
Thelonious Monk(p) Charlie Rouse(ts) Larry Gales(b) Ben Riley(ds)
Recorded in Norway 1966 dvd “LIVE in ’66”

 

Peter Hujar. 'Susan Sontag' 1975

 

Peter Hujar
Susan Sontag
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.1 x 37.6cm (14 5/8 x 14 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Michael O'Brien. 'Willie Nelson' 1989 (printed 2009)

 

Michael O’Brien
Willie Nelson
1989 (printed 2009)
Chromogenic print
Image: 38.1 x 38.1cm (15 x 15″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Introduction

What do we mean when we say someone is cool? To be cool means to exude the aura of something new and uncontainable. Cool is the opposite of innocence or virtue. Someone cool has a charismatic edge and a dark side. Cool is an earned form of individuality. Each generation has certain individuals who bring innovation and style to a field of endeavor while projecting a certain charismatic self-possession. They are the figures selected for this exhibition: the successful rebels of American culture.

The legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young created the modern usage of “cool” in the 1940s. At first it meant being relaxed in one’s environment against oppressive social forces, but within a generation it became a password for stylish self-control. This exhibition does not reflect our opinion of who’s cool. Each cool figure was considered with the following historical rubric in mind and possesses at least three elements of this singular American self-concept:

  1. an original artistic vision carried off with a signature style
  2. cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation
  3. iconic power, or instant visual recognition
  4. a recognized cultural legacy

Every individual here created an original persona without precedent in American culture. These photographs capture the complex relationship between the real-life person, the image embraced by fans and the media, and the person’s artistic work.

What does it mean when a generation claims a certain figure as cool? What qualities does this person embody at that historical moment? American Cool explores these questions through photography, history, and popular culture. In this exhibition, cool is rendered visible, as shot by some of the finest art photographers of the past century.

 

The Roots of Cool: Before 1940

The stage was set for the emergence of cool as a cultural phenomenon in the early 1940s by a series of sweeping transformations in the first decades of the twentieth century. The figures in this first section were not called cool in their day but were leading exemplars of new energies that were changing the social contours of American life. A fresh rebelliousness was revealed in the new film capital of Hollywood, in modernist literature and art, in emerging youth entertainments, and in a new music called jazz. The advent of technologies such as radio, film, and the automobile and the increasing diversity in America’s booming cities accelerated the pace of change. Though Prohibition in the 1920s sought to regulate American morality by ending the consumption of alcohol, this period saw the expression of a new independence among young people and others historically on the margins of public life. In particular, both African Americans and women sought and began to attain freedoms long denied. Cool has long denoted a person’s sense of calm and composure. Charismatic individuals such as those featured here contributed greatly to the changing mores in American society before World War II. Cool would ultimately serve as the term that would describe this new rebel.

The Birth of Cool: 1940-59

Being cool was a response to the rapid changes of modernity: it was about maintaining a state of equipoise within swirling, dynamic social forces. The legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young disseminated the word and concept of cool into jazz culture in the early 1940s, and it quickly crossed over as a rebel masculine sensibility. When Young said, “I’m cool,” he meant, first, that he was relaxed in the environment and, second, that he was keeping it together under social and economic pressure as well as the absurdity of life in a racist society. This mask of cool emerged as a form of American stoicism and was manifested in jazz, film noir, Beat literature, and abstract expressionism. In jazz, a generation of younger musicians rejected big-band swing entertainment to create bebop, a fast, angular, virtuosic style that moved jazz out of dance halls and into nightclubs. In Hollywood, film noir represented postwar anxiety inthrough crime dramas shot through with working-class existentialism and the fear of women’s sexual and economic power. Among Beat writers and abstract painters, cool referred to a combination of wildness and intensity in men unconcerned with social conformity. Starting from jazz, cool was a rebel sensibility suggesting that an individual’s importance could be registered only through self-expression and the creation of a signature style. By 1960 cool was the protean password of a surging underground aesthetic.

 

Cool and the Counterculture: 1960-79

In the 1960s and 1970s, to be cool was to be antiauthoritarian and open to new ideas from young cultural leaders in rock and roll, journalism, film, and African American culture. Cool was a badge of opposition to “the System,” by turns a reference to the police, the government, the military-industrial complex, or traditional morality. Using drugs such as marijuana or even LSD was an indicator of risk taking and expanding one’s consciousness; not experimenting with drugs suggested a fear of opening one’s mind or perspective, of being “uptight” or “square.” The same was true of sexual exploration, social protest, and ethnic politics. The aesthetic of stylized understatement still held power, yet cool itself morphed under the era’s social upheavals. The counterculture valued being authentic and emotionally naked: being cool meant a person was “out-front” with others and comfortable in his or her own skin. For African Americans, what had once been suppressed under the mask of cool transformed into defiant civic engagement in music, sports, and politics. “Cool” meant to communicate a set of emotions without losing control, and rock and roll was the art form (and forum) best suited for this shift, especially for women. Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt, Deborah Harry, and Chrissie Hynde all carved out new iconic stances, styles, and voices for independent women who were sexy on their own terms. Cool became the supreme compliment for creative public figures who broke new cultural ground and maintained their personal integrity over time.

 

The Legacies of Cool: 1980-Present

In 1980s America, the selling of rebellion as style became ingrained in cool. From highbrow fashion to mass-culture video games, product designers, advertisers, and consumers embraced the cool aesthetic. For many during this era, selling out was no longer a curse, as youth culture increasingly embraced the pursuit of wealth. And though some might proclaim that cool was dead, the concept stayed alive and grew in many quarters. From hip-hop to Seattle grunge, from skateboarding to the Internet, from street graffiti to MTV, cool became central to many of these new cultural forms. While its popularization tended to whiten this phenomenon, African American culture remained central to its growth. By the 1980s cool also had an easily recognizable history, and many figures from its past – like heroes from a bygone era – continued to resonate widely. Indeed, new icons of cool often built careers that owed much to these earlier exemplars. Throughout the twentieth century, cool was America’s chief cultural export. With the rapid growth of global communication and markets, it plays an even larger role both in the world’s understanding of America and in Americans’ own sense of national identity. The figures in this final section are representative of the legacies of cool as a distinct form of American expression.

Press release from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

 

Martin Munkacsi. 'Fred Astaire' 1936

 

Martin Munkacsi
Fred Astaire
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image (Image, Accurate): 24.1 x 19cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Audrey Hepburn' 1955

 

Philippe Halsman
Audrey Hepburn
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 34.9 x 27cm (13 3/4 x 10 5/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Dmitri Kasterine. 'Jean-Michel Basquait' 1986

 

Dmitri Kasterine
Jean-Michel Basquait
1986
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.3 x 37.7cm (15 1/16 x 14 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Cass Bird. 'Benicio Del Toro' 2008 (printed 2012)

 

Cass Bird
Benicio Del Toro
2008 (printed 2012)
Inkjet print
Image: 45.3 x 35.3 cm (17 13/16 x 13 7/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Carl Van Vechten. 'Bessie Smith' 1936

 

Carl Van Vechten
Bessie Smith
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 25.2 x 18.6 cm (9 15/16 x 7 5/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

This is not only a landmark because it contains Bessie Smith’s only known film appearance but also for being one of the very first talkies ever made. This is the complete film co-starring Jimmy Mordecai as her gigolo boyfriend.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Deborah Harry' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Deborah Harry
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.9 x 34.9cm (13 3/4 x 13 3/4″)
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Humphrey Bogart' 1944

 

Philippe Halsman
Humphrey Bogart
1944
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11.3 x 8.6cm (4 7/16 x 3 3/8″)
Mat: 45.7 x 35.6cm (18 x 14″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Samuel Hollyer. 'Leaves of Grass, 1st Edition' Copy after: Gabriel Harrison 1855

 

Samuel Hollyer
Leaves of Grass, 1st Edition
Copy after: Gabriel Harrison
1855
Book (closed): 28.9 x 20.6 x 1cm (11 3/8 x 8 1/8 x 3/8″)
Private Collection

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Frederick Douglas' 1856

 

Unidentified Artist
Frederick Douglas
1856
Quarter-plate ambrotype
Image: 10.6 x 8.6cm (4 3/16 x 3 3/8″)
Case (open): 11.9 x 19.1 x 1.3cm (4 11/16 x 7 1/2 x 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Linda McCartney. 'Jimi Hendrix' 1967 (printed later)

 

Linda McCartney
Jimi Hendrix
1967 (printed later)
Platinum print
Image: 51.3 x 35.3 cm (20 3/16 x 13 7/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

An incredible live performance of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) by Jimmy and his band in Stockholm, 1969.

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Duke Ellington' c. 1946 (printed 1991)

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Duke Ellington
c. 1946 (printed 1991)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.1 x 26.7 cm (13 7/16 x 10 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Fantastic performance footage of one of Jazz’s greatest stars – Duke Ellington. With performances of song of his most famous songs including “Mood Indigo”, “Caravan” & “Sophisticated Lady”

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and big-band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions. A major figure in the history of jazz, Ellington’s music stretched into various other genres. His career spanned more than 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, composing stage musicals, and world tours. Several of his instrumental works were adapted into songs that became standards. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his eloquence and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other traditional genres of music. His reputation increased after his death and the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowed on him a special posthumous honor in 1999. Ellington called his music “American Music” rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category.”

 

Mark Seliger. 'Kurt Cobain' 1993 (printed 2013)

 

Mark Seliger
Kurt Cobain
1993 (printed 2013)
Platinum Palladium print
Image: 46.7 × 35.5 cm (18 3/8 × 14″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Marlon Brando' 1950 (printed later)

 

Philippe Halsman
Marlon Brando
1950 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.4 x 26.8cm (13 9/16 x 10 9/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Charles H. Stewart. 'Muddy Waters' c. 1960

 

Charles H. Stewart
Muddy Waters
c. 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.4 x 18.4cm (10 x 7 1/4″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt. 'Lauren Bacall' 1949 (printed 2013)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt
Lauren Bacall
1949 (printed 2013)
Pigmented ink jet print
Image: 40.3 x 27.9cm (15 7/8 x 11″)

 

Kate Simon. 'Madonna' 1983 (printed 2013)

 

Kate Simon
Madonna
1983 (printed 2013)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.7 × 22.9cm (13 1/4 × 9″)
© Kate Simon

 

 

Aram Avakian. 'Miles Davis' 1955 (printed 2012)

 

Aram Avakian
Miles Davis
1955 (printed 2012)
Modern print made from original negative
Image: 34.6 × 24.1cm (13 5/8 × 9 1/2″)

 

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Bix Beiderbecke' c. 1920

 

Unidentified Artist
Bix Beiderbecke
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.1 x 11.4cm (7 1/2 x 4 1/2″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke (March 10, 1903 – August 6, 1931) was an American jazz cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer.

With Louis Armstrong and Muggsy Spanier, Beiderbecke was one of the most influential jazz soloists of the 1920s. His turns on “Singin’ the Blues” and “I’m Coming, Virginia” (both 1927), in particular, demonstrated an unusual purity of tone and a gift for improvisation. With these two recordings, especially, he helped to invent the jazz ballad style and hinted at what, in the 1950s, would become cool jazz. “In a Mist” (1927), one of a handful of his piano compositions and one of only two he recorded, mixed classical (Impressionist) influences with jazz syncopation.

 

Gerard-Malanga-lou-reed-WEB

 

Gerard Malanga
Lou Reed
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 48.3 x 36.2cm (19 x 14 1/4″)
© Martin Irvine

 

 

Arnold A. Newman. 'Jackson Pollock' 1949

 

Arnold A. Newman
Jackson Pollock
1949
Gelatin silver print
Image: 46 x 36.7cm (18 1/8 x 14 7/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Lynn Goldsmith. 'Patti Smith' 1976 (printed 2012)

 

Lynn Goldsmith
Patti Smith
1976 (printed 2012)
Digital inkjet print
Image: 46.9 x 30 cm (18 7/16 x 11 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Clint Eastwood' 1971

 

Philippe Halsman
Clint Eastwood
1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.3 x 27.3cm (13 1/2 x 10 3/4″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Richard Avedon. 'Bob Dylan, Singer, New York City, February 10, 1965' 1965

 

Richard Avedon
Bob Dylan, Singer, New York City, February 10, 1965
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.4 × 20.3cm (10 × 8″)
© Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

Eli Reed. 'Tupac Shakur' 1992 (printed 2013)

 

Eli Reed
Tupac Shakur
1992 (printed 2013)
Digitally exposed chromogenic print
Image: 34.6 x 27.3 cm (13 5/8 x 10 3/4″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Gene Krupa at 400 Restaurant, New York City' June 1946

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Gene Krupa at 400 Restaurant, New York City
June 1946
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 35.6 x 27.9cm (14 x 11″)
Estate of William Gottlieb

 

Eugene Bertram “Gene” Krupa (January 15, 1909 – October 16, 1973) was an American jazz and big band drummer, actor and composer, known for his highly energetic and flamboyant style. In the 1930s, Krupa became the first endorser of Slingerland drums. At Krupa’s urging, Slingerland developed tom-toms with tuneable top and bottom heads, which immediately became important elements of virtually every drummer’s setup. Krupa developed and popularized many of the cymbal techniques that became standards. His collaboration with Armand Zildjian of the Avedis Zildjian Company developed the modern hi-hat cymbals and standardized the names and uses of the ride cymbal, the crash cymbal, the splash cymbal, the pang cymbal and the swish cymbal. One of his bass drums, a Slingerland inscribed with Benny Goodman’s and Krupa’s initials, is preserved at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. In 1978, Krupa became the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

 

 

 

 

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
8th and F Sts NW
Washington, DC 20001

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

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09
Feb
12

Exhibition: ‘HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture’ at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 18th November 2011 – 12th February 2012

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“The possibility of using our bodies as a possible source of very numerous pleasures is something that is very important. For instance, if you look at the traditional construction of pleasure, you see that bodily pleasure, or pleasures of the flesh, are always drinking, eating and fucking. And that seems to be the limit of the understanding of our bodies, our pleasures ….

It is very interesting to note, for instance, that for centuries people generally, as well as doctors, psychiatrists, and even liberation movements, have always spoken about desire, and never about pleasure. “We have to liberate our desire,” they say. No! We have to create new pleasure. And then maybe desire will follow.” (My bold)

Michel Foucault 1

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Minor White
Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
1948
from The Temptation of St Anthony is Mirrors 1948
Gelatin silver print
4 5/8 x 3 5/8 in. (11.7 x 9.2 cm)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum Bequest of Minor White, MWA 48-136
© Trustees of Princeton University

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(top)
Minor White
Images 9 and 10 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
9.3 x 11.8 cm; 11.2 x 9.1 cm

(bottom)
Minor White
Images 27 and 28 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948. 5.3 x 11.6 cm; 10.6 x 8.9 cm

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(left)
Minor White

Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
1948
from The Temptation of St Anthony is Mirrors 1948
Gelatin silver print
4 5/8 x 3 5/8 in. (11.7 x 9.2 cm)

(right)
George Platt Lynes

Untitled
nd

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I had the great privilege of visiting The Minor White Archive at Princeton University while I was researching for my PhD. While there I studied the work cards and classic prints of the great photographer, paying particular attention to his photography of the male. What was a great surprise and delight to me were the presence of photographs of explicit sexual acts, men photographed with erections – images that have, to my knowledge, never been published. I don’t think that many people would even know that Minor White took such photographs. Although these images would have never been for public consumption it is still very unusual to find a classical photographer with such a public profile taking photographs of erect penises, especially in the 1940s!

Disturbed by having been in battle in the Second World War and seeing some of his best male friends killed, White’s early photographs of men (in their uniforms) depict the suffering and anguish that the mental and physical stress of war can cause. He was even more upset than most because he was battling his own inner sexual demons at the same time, his shame and disgust at being a homosexual and attracted to men, a difficulty compounded by his religious upbringing. In his photographs White both denied his attraction to men and expressed it. His photographs of the male body are suffused with both sexual mystery and a celebration of his sexuality despite his bouts of guilt. After the war he started to use the normal everyday bodies of his friends to form sequences of photographs, sometimes using the body as a metaphor for the landscape and vice versa. In the above photograph (Tom Murphy, left), based on a religious theme, we see a dismembered hairy body front on, the hands clutching and caressing the body, the lower hand hovering near the exposed genitalia, the upper hand cupping the breast. We see the agony and ecstasy of a homoerotic desire cloaked in a religious theme.

The image comes from the The Temptation of St Anthony is Mirrors (1948), four pages of which can be seen above. While at The Minor White Archive I looked at the only complete, undamaged book in existence. What an experience!

The book has a powerful and intense presence. It was beautifully sequenced as you would expect from Minor White and features photographs of Tom Murphy. There is a series of his hands over the back of a chair in different positions: hanging, curled, splayed, held slightly upwards, and these are paired with photographs of bare feet and turned up jeans, bare feet and rocks, and three other photographs of Tom Murphy. In an excellent paper Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White (nd), author Kevin Moore observes that the hand-bound volume with images paired on facing pages – “mirrors” to both one another and the artist – is a personal account as well as a meditation on the sins of the flesh.

“Temptation (which was never published or exhibited) begins with a sort of prologue, comprising a single full-length nude of Tom Murphy, White’s student and the model most commonly associated with his work. The pose is similar to those found in the beefcake pictures White was producing at this time: Murphy adopts a classical contrapposto stance and is entirely nude, his pale, wiry body positioned against a dark backdrop. A piece of driftwood at the model’s feet proposes a theme of innocence – man in his natural state. The sequence then moves to pairings of images describing man in his civilized state, featuring several loving close-ups of Murphy’s gesturing hands, a shot of his bare feet, and a single shoulder-length portrait, in which he wears a buttoned shirt and looks intently off to the side. Next, there is an interlude suggesting growing dissolution: an image of Murphy’s feet and a petrified stone is paired with a shot of Murphy in full dress slouched on a mass of rocks and staring vacantly off into the distance. The next pairing [images 9 and 10 above] accelerates the descent into temptation. Here, the pose in a second picture of Murphy’s feet suggests agitation, while a three-quarterlength portrait of Murphy, crouched in the bushes and looking back over his shoulder, is as emblematic an image of cruising as White ever produced. The photographs that follow descend further into lust and self-recrimination, conveyed through photographs in which Murphy’s naked body alternates between expressions of pain and pleasure. The sequence ends with a series of beatific nudes [images 27 and 28 above], which express redemption through nonsexual treatments of the body and in the body’s juxtaposition with natural forms – a return to nature.

White may have thought at first that the sequence format would help him transcend the limits of personal biography, that he could use the breadth and fluidity of the sequence to emphasize a universal narrative while exercising control over the potentially explosive and revealing content of individual images. This proved to be overly optimistic, at least in his earliest uses of the form. White’s colleagues, for example, immediately understood Temptation for what it really was: an agonized portrayal of White’s love for his male student.”

Moore goes on to conclude that White obsfucated his sexuality, displacing gay ‘cruising’ “by a universalized mystical searching – sexual longing setting in motion a heroic search” using photography as his medium, and that his photographs became a dreamscape, perhaps even a dream(e)scape: “in which meanings are obscured, not clarified; signs are effaced, not illuminated; beauty is closeted, not set out for all to see. White was attracted to the ambiguity of the dream because it offered cover and protection but also freedom to maneuver. The dream supported the irrational, maintained a sense of mystery, and beautified frustration.”

I have to disagree with Kevin Moore. Anyone who has seen The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors in the flesh (so to speak) can feel the absolute presence of these images, their reality, the connection between image and viewer. Maybe White was a Romantic but he was realistically romantic; his images are not dreamscapes, they offer multiple readings and contexts, insights into the human condition. Even though there was anguish and guilt present about his sexuality, channelled through his photography, anyone bold enough to take photographs of erections in 1940 has some ticker. It takes a clear eye and a courageous heart to do this, knowing what was at stake in this era of sexual repression. Beauty is not closeted here, unless I am looking at different images from Kevin Moore. In fact the magic of the photography of Minor White is his ability to modulate space, to modulate bodies so that they are beautiful, ambiguous and mystical whatever their context. Not everything in this world has to be in your face. Like a Glen Gould playing the Goldberg Variations revelation of beauty takes time, concentration and meditation.

Also, an overriding feeling when viewing the images was one of loneliness, sadness and anguish, for the bodies seemed to be observed and not partaken of, to be unavailable both physically and in a strange way, photographically. For a photographer who prided himself on revealing the spirit within, through photography, these are paradoxical photographs, visually accessible and mysteriously (un)revealing, photographs of a strange and wonderful ambivalence. Two great words: obsfucation, ambivalence. Clouded with mixed feelings and emotions, not necessarily anything to do with sexuality. Not everything has to be about sexuality. It is the difference between imbibing Freud or Jung – personally I prefer the more holistic, more inclusive, more spiritual Jung.

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And so to the image of George Platt Lynes that I have paired with the nude of Tom Murphy.

Platt Lynes was another artist who struggled with is sexuality, but seemingly not to such an extent as Minor White did. GPL worked as a fashion photographer and had his own studio in New York where he photographed dancers, artists and celebrities among others. He undertook a series of mythological photographs on classical themes (which are amazing in composition and feature Surrealist motifs). Privately he photographed male nudes but was reluctant to show them in public for fear of the harm that they could do to his reputation and business with the fashion magazines. Generally his earlier male nude photographs concentrate on the idealised youthful body or ephebe.

As Lynes became more despondent with his career as a fashion photographer his private photographs of male nudes tended to take on a darker and sharper edge. After a period of residence in Hollywood he returned to New York nearly penniless. His style of photographing the male nude underwent a revision. While the photographs of his European colleagues still relied on the sun drenched bodies of young adolescent males evoking memories of classical beauty and the mythology of Ancient Greece the later nudes of Platt Lynes feature a mixture of youthful ephebes and heavier set bodies which appear to be more sexually knowing. The compositional style of dramatically lit photographs of muscular torsos of older men shot in close up (see photograph below for example) were possibly influenced by a number of things – his time in Hollywood with its images of handsome, swash-buckling movie stars with broad chests and magnificent physiques; the images of bodybuilders by physique photographers that George Platt Lynes visited; the fact that his lover George Tichenor had been killed during WWII; and the knowledge that he was penniless and had cancer. There is, I believe, a certain sadness but much inner strength in his later photographs of the male nude that harnesses the inherent sexual power embedded within their subject matter.

When undertaking research into GPL’s photographs at The Kinsey Institute as part of my PhD I noted that most of the photographs had annotations in code on the back of them giving details of age, sexual proclivities of models and what they are prepared to do and where they were found. This information gives a vital social context to GPL’s nude photographs of men and positions them within the moral and ethical framework of the era in which they were made. The strong image (below) is always quoted as an example of GPL’s more direct way of photographing the male nude in the last years of his life. The male is solid, imposing, lit from above, heavy set, powerful, massive. The eyes are almost totally in shadow. Later photos have more chiaroscuro than earlier work, more use of contrasting light (especially down lit or uplit figures) but are they more direct? Yes. The men look straight into camera.

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George Platt Lynes
Untitled (Frontal Male Nude)
nd

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This monumentality of body and form was matched by a new openness in the representation of sexuality. There are intimate photographs of men in what seem to be post-coital revere, in unmade beds, genitalia showing or face down showing their butts off. Some of the faces in these later photographs remain hidden, as though disclosure of identity would be detrimental for fear of persecution. The photograph above is very ‘in your face’ for the conservative time from which it emerges, remembering it was the era of witch hunts against communists and subversives (including homosexuals). Conversely, this photograph is quite restrained compared to the most striking series of GPL’s photographs that I saw at The Kinsey Institute which involves an exploration the male anal area (a photograph from the 1951 series can be found in the book titled ‘George Platt Lynes: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute’). This explicit series features other photographs of the same model – in particular one that depicts the male with his buttocks in the air pulling his arse cheeks apart. After Lynes found out he had cancer he started to send his photographs to the German homoerotic magazine Der Kries under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf, and in the last years of his life he experimented with paper negatives, which made his images of the male body even more grainy and mysterious.

I believe that Lynes understood, intimately, the different physical body types that gay men find desirable and used them in his photographs. He visited Lon of New York (a photographer of beefcake men) in his studio and purchased photographs of bodybuilders for himself, as did the German photographer George Hoyningen-Huene. It is likely that these images of bodybuilders did influence his later compositional style of images of men; it is also possible that he detected the emergence of this iconic male body type as a potent sexual symbol, one that that was becoming more visible and sexually available to gay men.

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The differences between the White and GPL nudes is instructive. White: introspective, haunted, religious with an unrequited sense of longing – hands clutching self, inward pointing; GPL: more closely cropped, more open, one hand firmly grasping but the other hand open, receptive, presented to the viewer above the available phallic organ. It reminds me for some unknown reason, some quirk of my brain association, of the shell of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1486) inverted. There is difference between the two artists – one struggling with his sexuality, being realistically romantic, the other physically doing something about it – posting his photographs to one of the first gay magazines in the world. But both were taking photographs of intimate sexual acts that could never have been published in their lifetimes – that are still are hidden from view today. When, oh when, will someone have the courage to publish this work?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Brooklyn Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)
Walt Whitman (1818-1892)
1891
10.3 x 12.2cm
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute

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Charles Demuth
Dancing Sailors
1917
Watercolor and pencil on paper
20.3 x 25.4cm
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Mr and Mrs William H Marlatt Fund

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George Wesley Bellows (American, 1882-1925)
Riverfront No.1
1915
Oil on canvas
115.3 x 160.3 cm
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio: Howald Fund Purchase

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Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane
1933
Oil on canvas
Gift of Ione and Hudson D. Walker
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota

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“Harold Hart Crane (July 21, 1899 – April 27, 1932) was an American poet. Finding both inspiration and provocation in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Crane wrote modernist poetry that is difficult, highly stylized, and very ambitious in its scope. In his most ambitious work, The Bridge, Crane sought to write an epic poem in the vein of The Waste Land that expressed something more sincere and optimistic than the ironic despair that Crane found in Eliot’s poetry. In the years following his suicide at the age of 32, Crane has come to be seen as one of the most influential poets of his generation…

Crane visited Mexico in 1931-32 on a Guggenheim Fellowship and his drinking continued as he suffered from bouts of alternating depression and elation … While on board the steamship SS Orizaba enroute to New York, he was beaten after making sexual advances to a male crew member, seeming to confirm his own idea that one could not be happy as a homosexual. Just before noon on April 27, 1932, Hart Crane jumped overboard into the Gulf of Mexico. Although he had been drinking heavily and left no suicide note, witnesses believed his intentions to be suicidal, as several reported that he exclaimed “Goodbye, everybody!” before throwing himself overboard. (The legend among poets is: He walked to the fantail, took off his coat quietly, and jumped.) His body was never recovered.” (Wikipedia)

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Peter Hujar (1937-1987)
Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
1975
Gelatin Silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute
© Estate of Peter Hujar

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Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Unfinished Painting
1989
Acrylic on canvas
100.0 x 100.0 cm
Courtesy of Katia Perlstein, Brussels, Belgium
© Keith Haring Foundation

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David Wojnarowicz
A Fire In My Belly (Film In Progress) (film still)
1986-87
Super 8mm film
black and white & color (transferred to video)
Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York and The Fales Library and Special Collection

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“One day before World AIDS Day, the renown painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992 at the age of 37 from AIDS-related complications, has had one of his most important works, A Fire In My Belly, pulled from The Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery’s HIDE/ SEEK exhibit because of pressure from conservative politicians and the Catholic League.” See a four minute extract from this unfinished film on THE END OF BEING BLOG.

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HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, the first major museum exhibition to explore how gender and sexual identity have shaped the creation of American portraiture, organized by and presented at the National Portrait Gallery last fall, will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum from November 18, 2011, through February 12, 2012. With the cooperation of the National Portrait Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum has reconstituted the exhibition in concert with the Tacoma Art Museum, where it will be on view from March 17 through June 10, 2012.

HIDE/SEEK includes approximately a hundred works in a wide range of media created over the course of one hundred years that reflect a variety of sexual identities and the stories of several generations. Highlighting the influence of gay and lesbian artists, many of whom developed new visual strategies to code and disguise their subjects’ sexual identities as well as their own, HIDE/ SEEK considers such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern Americans, how artists have explored the definition of sexuality and gender, how major themes in modern art – especially abstraction – have been influenced by marginalization, and how art has reflected society’s changing attitudes.

Announcing the Brooklyn presentation, Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman states, “From the moment I first learned about this extraordinary exhibition in its planning stages, presenting it in Brooklyn has been a priority. It is an important chronicle of a neglected dimension of American art and a brilliant complement and counterpoint to ‘Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties’, a touring exhibition organized by the Brooklyn Museum, also on view this fall.”

In addition to its commentary on a marginalized cultural history, HIDE/ SEEK offers an unprecedented survey of more than a century of American art. Beginning with late nineteenth-century portraits by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent, it includes works from the first half of the 1900s by such masters as Romaine Brooks, George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O’Keeffe; the exhibition continues through the postwar period with works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Agnes Martin, and Andy Warhol, and concludes with major works by late twentieth-century artists such as Keith Haring, Glenn Ligon, Nan Goldin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Catherine Opie.

The Brooklyn presentation will feature nearly all of the works included in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition. Among them are rarely seen paintings by Charles Demuth, whose better-known industrialized landscapes are on view in the Brooklyn Museum exhibition Youth and Beauty; a poignant portrait of New Yorker writer Janet Flanner wearing two masks, taken by photographer Bernice Abbott; Andrew Wyeth’s painting of a young neighbor standing nude in a wheat field, much like Botticelli’s Venus emerging from her shell; Robert Mapplethorpe’s photograph riffing on the classic family portrait, in which a leather-clad Brian Ridley is seated on a wingback chair shackled to his whip-wielding partner, Lyle Heeter; and Cass Bird’s photographic portrait of a friend staring out from under a cap emblazoned with the words “I look Just Like My Daddy.” The exhibition will also include David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, an unfinished film the artist created between 1986 and 1987.”

Press release from the Brooklyn Museum website

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Berenice Abbott (1898 – 1991)
Janet Flanner (1892 – 1978)
1927
Photographic print
23 x 17.3 cm
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C
C Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd., Inc.

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Thomas Eakins (American, 1844 -1916)
Salutat
1898
Oil on canvas
127.0 x 101.6 cm
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
Gift of anonymous donor

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Walker Evans (1903 – 1975)
Lincoln Kirstein (1907 – 1996)
1930
Gelatin silver print
16.1cm x 11.4cm
The Metropolitan Msuem of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Marsden Hartley
Painting No. 47, Berlin
1915
Oil on canvas
39 7/16 x 32 in. (100.1 x 81.3 cm)
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972

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George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Marsden Hartley
1942
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 19.1 cm
Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, ME, Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection
© Estate of George Platt Lynes

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Beauford Delaney (American, 1901-1979)
James Baldwin
1963
Pastel on paper
64.8 x 49.8 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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Cass Bird
I Look Just Like My Daddy
2003
C-type print
72.6 x 101.6 cm
Collection of the artist, New York
© Cass Bird

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1. Gallagher, Bob and Wilson, Alexander. “Sex and the Politics of Identity: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” in Thompson, Mark. Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987, p.31.

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Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, NY 11238-6052
T: (718) 638-5000

Opening hours:
Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Thursday11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
first Saturday of each month, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

Brooklyn Museum website

HIDE/SEEK exhibition website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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