Posts Tagged ‘Lincoln Kirstein

08
Feb
17

Exhibition: ‘Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York’ at the Museum of the City of New York, New York City Part 1

Exhibition dates: 7th October 2016 – 26th February 2017

An exhibition showcasing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer artistic life in New York City through the social networks of Leonard Bernstein, Mercedes de Acosta, Harmony Hammond,  Bill T. Jones, Lincoln Kirstein, Greer Lankton, George Platt Lynes,  Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Andy Warhol.

Curators: Donald Albrecht, MCNY curator of architecture and design, and Stephen Vider, MCNY Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow.

 

 

#POD

This is part 1 of a monster, two-part posting on this fabulous extravaganza: Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York at the Museum of the City of New York, “a groundbreaking exhibition that explores New York’s role as a beacon for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) artists seeking freedom, acceptance, and community.”

Freedom. Acceptance. Community. A tripartite motto to which we could add equality (different from acceptance), echoing the Brotherhood of man of the Third Republic of France. In these days of Lumpism, we do have an idea how important these concepts are – for our civil liberties, for our sexual freedom, and for our right, our write, to choose and voice an opinion which is different from that of the oligarchy. We know we have to stand up to these bigots.

Freedom to be ourselves has always been at the core of GLBTQI identity. Our Point of Difference (#POD).

While I came out in London six short years after Stonewall, and was wearing silver hair, eye shadow, rings on every hand and pink and cream satin bomber jackets in London in the 1970s, many of the people pictured in this posting had no doubt endured numerous persecutions for who they were many years before it was acceptable to be GLBTQI. And still today in many parts of the world (Russia, Papua New Guinea, South America, and Africa) GLBTQI people face discrimination and death.

But do you know what?

The world would be a much poorer, less creative place without all of the GLBTQI people who have lived over all of the centuries of human existence… continuing to be themselves in the face of adversity and resentment. Continuing to enrich the lives of themselves and other human beings.

Are we going away? Hell no!

I have spent hours researching the people in this posting, adding sound and video provided by the Museum of the City of New York. Because this information deserves to be out there on the WWW.

As we still strive for equality or even just existence in the world, our #POD, in New York or wherever – not our assimilation into the main stream – is what makes us relevant and interesting and emotional in this world. Long may it remain so.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

PS The dancing in the Audio and video excerpts from Filling Station (1938) and Billy the Kid (1938), especially the latter, are a joy to behold!

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Many thank to the Museum of the City of New York for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

1910 – 1960: Portraits

Richard Bruce Nugent

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Richard Bruce Nugent
(July 2, 1906 – May 27, 1987), aka Richard Bruce and Bruce Nugent, was a writer and painter in the Harlem Renaissance. (The Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem, New York spanned from about 1918 until the mid-1930s). One of many gay artists of the Harlem Renaissance, he was one of few who was out publicly. Recognized initially for the few short stories and paintings that were published, Nugent had a long productive career bringing to light the creative process of gay and black culture. …

During his career in Harlem, Nugent lived with writer Wallace Thurman from 1926 – 1928 which led to the publishing of “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” in Thurman’s publication “Fire!!!”. The short story was written in a modernist stream-of-consciousness style, its subject matter was bisexuality and more specifically interracial male desire. Many of his illustrations were featured in publications, such as “Fire!!!” along with his short story. Four of his paintings were included in the Harmon Foundation’s exhibition of Negro artists, which was one of the few venues available for black artists in 1931. His only stand-alone publication, “Beyond Where the Stars Stood Still,” was issued in a limited edition by Warren Marr II in 1945. …

Nugent’s aggressive and honest approach to homoerotic and interracial desire was not necessarily in the favor of his more discreet homosexual contemporaries. Alain Locke chastised the publication “Fire!!!” for its radicalism and specifically Nugent’s “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” for promoting the effeminacy and decadence associated with homosexual writers.

Nugent bridged the gap between the Harlem Renaissance and the black gay movement of the 1980s and was a great inspiration to many of his contemporaries… As one of the last survivors of the Harlem Renaissance, Nugent was a sought-after interview subject in his old age, consulted by numerous biographers and writers on both black and gay history. He was interviewed in the 1984 gay documentary, “Before Stonewall,” and his work was featured in Isaac Julien’s 1989 film, Looking for Langston.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. 'Lucifer' 1930

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
Lucifer
1930
From the Salome series
Watercolor on cardstock
Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. 'Drawing from Alexander Gumby's scrapbook' 1920s

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
Drawing from Alexander Gumby’s scrapbook
1920s
Ink on paper Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. '"Drawings for Mulattoes" Number 2' 1927

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. '"Drawings for Mulattoes" Number 3' 1927

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
“Drawings for Mulattoes” Numbers 2 and 3
1927
Illustration in Ebony and Topaz: A Collectanea
Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. 'Self-portrait' 1930s

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
Self-portrait
1930s
Pencil on paper
Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Richard Bruce Nugent. 'Smoke, Lilies and Jade' c. 1925

 

Richard Bruce Nugent
Smoke, Lilies and Jade
c. 1925
Mixed-media work
Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

Richard Bruce Nugent poems and prose read by Rodney Evans, director of the 2004 film Brother to Brother. Audio produced for the exhibition by Tim Cramer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercedes de Acosta

Mercedes de Acosta (March 1, 1893 – May 9, 1968) was an American poet, playwright, and novelist. Four of de Acosta’s plays were produced, and she published a novel and three volumes of poetry. …

De Acosta was involved in numerous lesbian relationships with Broadway’s and Hollywood’s elite and she did not attempt to hide her sexuality; her uncloseted existence was very rare and daring in her generation. In 1916 she began an affair with actress Alla Nazimova and later with dancer Isadora Duncan. Shortly after marrying Abram Poole in 1920, de Acosta became involved in a five-year relationship with actress Eva Le Gallienne. De Acosta wrote two plays for Le Gallienne, Sandro Botticelli and Jehanne de Arc. After the financial failures of both plays they ended their relationship.

Over the next decade she was involved with several famous actresses and dancers including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ona Munson, and Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina. Additional unsubstantiated rumors include affairs with Pola Negri, Eleonora Duse, Katherine Cornell, and Alice B. Toklas.

An ardent liberal, de Acosta was committed to several political causes. Concerned about the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936, for example, she supported the loyalist Republican government that opposed the fascist Franco regime. A tireless advocate for women’s rights, she wrote in her memoir, “I believed… in every form of independence for women and I was… an enrolled worker for women’s suffrage.” …

De Acosta’s best-known relationship was with Greta Garbo. When Garbo’s close friend, author Salka Viertel, introduced them in 1931, they quickly became involved. As their relationship developed, it became erratic and volatile with Garbo always in control. The two were very close sporadically and then apart for lengthy periods when Garbo, annoyed by Mercedes’ obsessive behaviour, coupled with her own neuroses, ignored her. In any case, they remained friends for thirty years during which time Garbo wrote de Acosta 181 letters, cards, and telegrams. About their friendship, Cecil Beaton, who was close to both women, recorded in his 1958 memoir, “Mercedes is [Garbo’s] very best friend and for 30 years has stood by her, willing to devote her life to her”.

De Acosta was described in 1955 by Garbo biographer, John Bainbridge, as “a woman of courtly manners, impeccable decorative taste and great personal elegance… a woman with a passionate and intense devotion to the art of living… and endowed with a high spirit, energy, eclectic curiosity and a varied interest in the arts.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

“After Cecil Beaton accompanied her to the theater one night in 1930, he wrote in his diary that he sensed people looking at him and questioning why he associated with “that furious lesbian.” She often boasted of her sexual prowess, saying “I can get any woman from any man.” There was perhaps justification for Alice B. Toklas’s observation, “Say what you will about Mercedes de Acosta, she’s had the most important women of the twentieth century.” …

Even though she avoided direct representation of same-sex eroticism in her writing, she freely “smuggled in” ideas and issues common to those of us in the homosexual community but she put them in a heterosexual setting. It is what one scholar calls “queening.”

Mercedes de Acosta was not hugely famous. Her contributions to the theater were minimal. Yet her story reveals a woman who stood up courageously for her beliefs and values. She seldom stumbled, even when her friends and peers turned against her. She lived her desire and paid the price. Her love for other women and her struggle for acceptance were certainly sources of her originality and fueled her writing. Perhaps the description of her as “that furious lesbian” should become an admirable attribute rather than a scornful slur.”

Robert A Schanke. “Mercedes de Acosta.”

 

Abram Poole. 'Mercedes de Acosta' 1923

 

Abram Poole
Mercedes de Acosta
1923
Oil on canvas
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Mercedes de Acosta in honor of Ala Story

 

Abram Poole. 'Mercedes de Acosta' 1923 (detail)

 

Abram Poole
Mercedes de Acosta (detail)
1923
Oil on canvas
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Mercedes de Acosta in honor of Ala Story

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Eva Le Gallienne in 'Jehanne d'Arc'' 1925

 

Anonymous photographer
Eva Le Gallienne in Jehanne d’Arc
1925
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Mercedes De Acosta

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Effie Shannon as Marie-Louise (left) and Michael Strange in the title role of 'L'Aiglon'' 1927

 

Anonymous photographer
Effie Shannon as Marie-Louise (left) and Michael Strange in the title role of L’Aiglon
1927
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Mr and Mrs Spencer Merriam Berger

 

Janet Flanner. 'Letter in the shape of a tulip from Janet Flanner to Mercedes de Acosta' 1928

 

Janet Flanner
Letter in the shape of a tulip from Janet Flanner to Mercedes de Acosta
1928
The Rosenbach, Philadelphia

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Cecil Beaton' Undated

 

George Platt Lynes
Cecil Beaton
Undated
Inscribed by Beaton to Mercedes de Acosta
The Rosenbach, Philadelphia

 

George Hoyningen-Huene. 'Mercedes de Acosta' 1934

 

George Hoyningen-Huene
Mercedes de Acosta
1934
Modern print
Courtesy The Rosenbach, Philadelphia

 

Cecil Beaton. 'From left, Alfred Stieglitz, Mercedes de Acosta, and Georgia O'Keeffe' c. 1943

 

Cecil Beaton
From left, Alfred Stieglitz, Mercedes de Acosta, and Georgia O’Keeffe
c. 1943
Gelatin silver print
The Rosenbach, Philadelphia

 

 

Works by Mercedes de Acosta works read by performers Moe Angelos and Carmelita Tropicana. Audio produced for the exhibition by Tim Cramer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Museum of the City of New York presents Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York, a groundbreaking exhibition that explores New York’s role as a beacon for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) artists seeking freedom, acceptance, and community.

The first exhibition of its kind to be presented by a New York City cultural institution in terms of depth and scope, Gay Gotham peels back the layers of New York City’s LGBT, or queer, life that thrived even in the shadows to reveal an often-hidden side of the city’s history and underscore the power of artistic collaboration to transcend oppression. The exhibition, which runs through February 26, 2017, will examine the worlds of New York’s famous LGBT cultural innovators, as well as those of ordinary citizens. The exhibition will also identify historical trends that led to the increased visibility of LGBT artists over the course of the 20th century.

“New York City, an international source of creativity throughout its history, provided the canvas, stage, and backdrop for LGBT artists and cultural innovators, and helped make it possible for them to transcend oppression and discrimination,” says Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. “Gay Gotham not only exhibits, but also celebrates the vibrant lives of artists who were suffering from injustice, and offers optimism for tomorrow.”

Gay Gotham brings to life the queer networks that sprang up in the city from the early-20th century through the mid-1990s – a series of artistic subcultures whose radical ideas had lasting effects on the mainstream. It explores the artistic achievements and creative networks of ten individuals, as well as four key ways that such networks are made: place-making (making places to meet and work together); posing (creating portraits of friends and artists); printing (creating publications); and performing (representing LGBT life in theater and film). The show is also organized into three chronological sections, dividing LGBT art and underground culture in 20th century New York:

  • Visible Subcultures: 1910 – 1930
  • Open Secrets: 1930 – 1960
  • Out New York: 1960 – 1995

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Occupying two full galleries, Gay Gotham features 225 works from a mix of iconic and lesser-known LGBT artists, whose work will be presented chronologically to reveal the trajectory of queer life in 20th century New York: composer Leonard Bernstein; playwright, poet and novelist Mercedes de Acosta; activist Harmony Hammond; dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones; arts impresario Lincoln Kirstein; artist Greer Lankton; photographer George Platt Lynes; artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; artist and author Richard Bruce Nugent; and artist Andy Warhol. Each of these individuals will be examined within the overlapping networks of numerous fellow artists and colleagues who advanced their professional careers, sustained their social lives, and propelled them into the city and nation’s cultural mainstream.

Gay Gotham, curated by Donald Albrecht, MCNY curator of architecture and design, and Stephen Vider, MCNY Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, includes paintings, drawings, photographs, sound recordings, and films that explore queer artistic achievements in music, the visual arts and theater during the 20th century. Ephemera such as correspondence and scrapbooks are also displayed, illuminating the artists’ personal bonds and revealing secrets that were scandal provoking in their time and remain largely unknown today.

On the impetus behind the show, Curator Donald Albrecht explained: “While exploring New York City’s gay artistic communities in past shows here at the Museum, I found them to be consistently hidden in plain sight and thought an exhibition ‘un-hiding’ these queer networks would be a revelation. Gay Gotham is the result, and I hope visitors gain an understanding of the cultural communities that formed as a response to injustice.”

Some of the works that will be featured in the show are: Bernstein’s own annotated copy of Romeo and Juliet, the inspiration for the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story, alongside original drawings of the production’s sets and costumes; a circa 1970 handmade, collaged scrapbook by Robert Mapplethorpe that includes images of friends and lovers like Patti Smith; Arnie Zane’s video of Keith Haring hand painting the body of Zane’s partner, dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones – a collaboration of three leaders of the 1980s queer downtown art scene;  several of artist Greer Lankton’s dolls, including a life-size one of Diana Vreeland made in 1989 for a Barneys display window.

Joel Sanders Architects designed the exhibition to give spatial expression to the show’s two main themes: the people and places that allowed queer artistic life to flourish in New York City. On both floors of the exhibition, the perimeter gallery walls are painted a deep purple, the color traditionally associated with queer culture. The center of both galleries will feature maps setting artistic explorations against the evolving backdrops of LGBT life in New York City, including gay neighborhoods and nightspots, as well as activist groups and key social and cultural events, such as protests and parades.

Gay Gotham will be accompanied by a 304-page book, Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York, by Donald Albrecht, with Stephen Vider and published by Skira Rizzoli. It includes more than 350 images, illustrations and background essays on the social and cultural themes of the LGBT artistic underground, as well as portraits of the show’s iconic artistic figures.”

Press release from the Museum of the City of New York

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Lincoln Kirstein' 1940s-50s

 

George Platt Lynes
Lincoln Kirstein
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1985

 

 

Lincoln Kirstein

Lincoln Edward Kirstein (May 4, 1907 – January 5, 1996) was an American writer, impresario, art connoisseur, philanthropist, and cultural figure in New York City, noted especially as co-founder of the New York City Ballet. He developed and sustained the company with his organizing ability and fundraising for more than four decades, serving as the company’s General Director from 1946 to 1989. …

Beginning in 1919, Kirstein kept a diary continuing through the practice until the late 1930s. In a 2007 biography of Kirstein, The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, Martin Duberman drew on his diaries, as well as Kirstein’s numerous letters. Kirstein wrote about enjoying sex with various men including Harvard undergraduates, sailors, street boys, and casual encounters in the showers at the 63rd St. YMCA. He had longer affairs with Pete Martinez, a dancer, Dan Maloney, an artist, and Jensen Yow, a conservator. Kirstein had both platonic relationships and many that started as casual sex and developed into long-term friendships…

Kirstein’s eclectic interests, ambition and keen interest in high culture, funded by independent means, drew a large circle of creative friends from many fields of the arts. These included: Glenway Wescott, George Platt Lynes, Jared French, Bernard Perlin, Pavel Tchelitchev, Katherine Anne Porter, Barbara Harrison, Gertrude Stein, Donald Windham, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, W. H. Auden, George Tooker, Margaret French Cresson, Walker Evans, Sergei Eisenstein and others. 

In his later years, Kirstein struggled with bipolar disorder – mania, depression, and paranoia. He destroyed the studio of friend Dan Maloney. He sometimes had to be constrained in a straitjacket for weeks at a psychiatric hospital. His illness did not generally affect his professional creativity until the end of his life.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ballet in America

After seeing ballets by George Balanchine, including Prodigal Son (the first Balanchine work he was to experience) in 1929 and Les Ballets 1933 in Paris, Kirstein met the choreographer for the first time in London in 1933 and immediately invited him to work in the United States where together they would build an American ballet tradition. Balanchine’s response, “But, first a school.” is now part of ballet history. In 1934, the School of American Ballet opened its doors on Madison Avenue with Kirstein as president, a post he held until his retirement in 1989.

Together, Balanchine and Kirstein embarked on the creation of a permanent company to realize their vision. There would be four such enterprises before the establishment of New York City Ballet in 1948. The first of these, American Ballet Company, toured in the eastern United States and was the resident ballet troupe for the Metropolitan Opera (performing under the name American Ballet Ensemble) from 1935-1938. A second company, Ballet Caravan was founded in 1936 to tour and produced notably, among other American works, Lew Christensen’s Filling Station and Eugene Loring’s Billy the Kid with libretti by Kirstein. It was succeeded by American Ballet Caravan which made a much-acclaimed tour of South America in 1941 before disbanding. Upon Kirstein’s return to the States from military service in World War II, Ballet Society was founded in 1946 to present performances for a subscription audience. Following a 1948 performance of Orpheus, the invitation came from City Center’s then-Chairman of the Executive Committee, Morton Baum, to establish a resident company to be known as New York City Ballet as part of the City Center of Music and Drama. Kirstein became the Company’s General Director and served in that capacity until relinquishing the post in 1989. …

The distinguished English critic Clement Crisp has written, “Lincoln Kirstein was a man of protean gifts and immense intellectual and organizational energy. He was one of those rare talents who touched the entire artistic life of their time: ballet, film, literature, theater, paintings, sculpture, photography – all occupied his attention. These many and other seemingly disparate concerns were united by a guiding intelligence which was uncompromising and uncompromisingly generous and served as the artistic conscience of his era. This was the essentially American quality of his work: that desire to ameliorate and inspire a society to the goal of a more humane and imaginatively rich world. To a grand extent his work was as intermediary between the arts and a vast public who benefited from his genius.”

Classical dance amplified by Balanchine’s own genius, expressed perfectly Lincoln’s immovable conviction that each human being contains the seeds of perfectibility. When he was 28, a significant year, he wrote that ballet provided the means for the human body in heightened capability, to set a poetic standard for each person’s ideal capacity. And he wrote and worked toward that standard in connection with everything he cared for all his life. Lincoln’s unending personal struggles, and searching and learning, led him in turn to give so much of himself to others. With uncanny intuition he understood who each one of us was: artists, students, friends, supporters alike were woven into a family with common cause.

Text from the New York City Ballet website

 

Lincoln Kirstein. 'Blast at Ballet: A Corrective for the American Audience' (Marstin Press, New York) 1938

 

Lincoln Kirstein
Blast at Ballet: A Corrective for the American Audience (Marstin Press, New York)
1938
Private collection

 

George Platt Lynes. 'From left, Michael Kidd, Beatrice Tomkins, and Ruby Asquith in 'Billy the Kid'' 1938, printed c. 1953

 

George Platt Lynes
From left, Michael Kidd, Beatrice Tomkins, and Ruby Asquith in Billy the Kid
1938, printed c. 1953
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1985

 

Paul Cadmus. '"Ray" costume design for the ballet 'Filling Station'' 1937

 

Paul Cadmus
“Ray” costume design for the ballet Filling Station
1937
Gouache, pencil, and ink on paper
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1941

 

 

Paul Cadmus

In the gorgeous, occasionally garish, always gratifying works of the great American artist Paul Cadmus, sailors and sunbathers, models and mannequins, nitwits and nudes all are suffused with a sensuality born equally of idyllic splendor and urban squalor, natural grace and graceful artifice. Active since the 1930s as a renderer of pretty boys and ugly ploys, Cadmus has spent many remarkable decades honing a singularly complex style of idealized sexuality and vivid displeasure in justly celebrated paintings, drawings and etchings of nude figures, fantastical scenes and supercharged allegories.

While often working quite deliberately in the genres of social satire and community critique, Cadmus is just as compelling when exploring the personal and political proclivities of bodies in rest and motion. Male bodies, that is. More than most artists of his substantial stature, Cadmus has detailed with exquisite tenderness and unblinking bluntness the manner in which gay males – and the gay male gaze – represent the polemics of aesthetics. …

As much as some younger artists would like to see Cadmus adopt the persona of nonagenarian poster boy for Gay Y2K, he’s generally content to let his images speak for themselves. That’s his choice to make; more perplexing, frankly, is the majority of critical writing on Cadmus that blatantly ignores his gay perspective and homoerotic imagery. Lincoln Kirstein, founding director of the New York City Ballet and the artist’s self-defined bisexual brother-in-law (married to Cadmus’s sister, Fidelma), wrote the “definitive” Cadmus monograph with nary a mention of the artist’s crucial homoeroticism, preferring to tiptoe around the truth with statements like, “As for sexual factors, he has without ostentation or polemic long celebrated somatic health in boys and young men for its symbolic range of human possibility. His addiction to aspects of physical splendor has never been provocative, sly, nor ambitious to proselytize.”

I wish Kirstein had taken a more careful look at the slender lad sporting a box kite and a noticeable bulge in “Aviator,” or the mine’s-bigger-than-yours posturing and relentless cruising on display in “Y.M.C.A. Locker Room” … Even more telling is “Manikins,” in which two small artist’s models lovingly do the nasty atop a copy of Corydon, André Gide’s plea for queer rights.

Steven Jenkins. “Paul Cadmus: The Body Politic,” on the Queer Arts Resource website

 

 

Excerpts from Filling Station, a seminal ballet with an American theme and setting, choreographed and performed by Lew Christensen with Ballet Caravan (1938). Perhaps the most enduring and popular work by Christensen, the comic ballet combined classical dancing with vaudevillian antics.

And excerpts from Billy the Kid (1938) a ballet written by the American composer Aaron Copland on commission from Lincoln Kirstein. It was choreographed by Eugene Loring for Ballet Caravan. Along with Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, it is one of Copland’s most popular and widely performed pieces.

With permission of the Museum of the City of New York for Art Blart.

 

 

George Platt Lynes

The greatest photographer of the male nude the world has ever seen – George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955).

Lynes worked as a fashion photographer in his own studio in New York (which he opened in 1932) before moving to Hollywood in 1946 where he took the post of Chief Photographer for the Vogue studios. Although an artistic success the sojourn was a financial failure and he returned to New York in 1948. Although continuing his commercial work he became disinterested in it, concentrating his energies on photographing the male nude. He began a friendship with Dr Alfred Kinsey of the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana and helped with his sex research. Between 1949 and 1955, Lynes sold and donated much of his erotic nudes to Kinsey.1 By May 1955 he had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer. He closed his studio. He destroyed much of his print and negative archives particularly his male nudes. However, it is now known that he had transferred many of these works to the Kinsey Institute. After a final trip to Europe, Lynes returned to New York City where he died.

See my full text George Platt Lynes and the male nude including many photographs and another text by Associate Professor Elspeth H. Brown (University of Toronto).

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Self-Portrait, in Tights' 1948

 

George Platt Lynes
Self-Portrait, in Tights
1948
Gelatin silver print
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Gift, Anonymous and In Kind
Canada, 1998

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Marsden Hartley' 1942

 

George Platt Lynes
Marsden Hartley
1942
Gelatin silver print
Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection, Bates College Museum of Art

 

George Platt Lynes. 'George Tooker at 5 St. Luke's Place, New York, with Paul Cadmus and Jared French in Mirror' c. 1940

 

George Platt Lynes
George Tooker at 5 St. Luke’s Place, New York, with Paul Cadmus and Jared French in Mirror
c. 1940
Vintage silver print
Estate of George Tooker, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

 

 

George Tooker

George Clair Tooker, Jr. (August 5, 1920 – March 27, 2011) was an American figurative painter. His works are associated with Magic realism, Social realism, Photorealism and Surrealism. His subjects are depicted naturally as in a photograph, but the images use flat tones, an ambiguous perspective, and alarming juxtapositions to suggest an imagined or dreamed reality. He did not agree with the association of his work with Magic realism or Surrealism, as he said, “I am after painting reality impressed on the mind so hard that it returns as a dream, but I am not after painting dreams as such, or fantasy.” …

His most well known paintings carry strong social commentary, and are often characterized as his “public” or “political” pieces. Some of these include: The Subway (1950), Government Bureau (1955-1956), The Waiting Room (1956-1957), Lunch (1964), Teller (1967), Waiting Room II (1982), Corporate Decision (1983), and Terminal (1986). These works are particularly influential, because they draw from universal experiences of modern, urban life. Many portray visually literal depictions of social withdrawal and isolation. In many ways, these images reveal the negative side of the subject matter celebrated in Impressionism. Modernity’s anonymity, mass-production, and fast pace are cast under an unforgiving, bleak, shadow-less light that conveys a sense of foreboding and isolation…

While Tooker’s “public” imagery is hostile and solemn, his “private” images are often more intimate and positive. Some of these include the ten images of the Windows series (1955-1987), Doors (1953), Guitar (1957), Toilette (1962), and the Mirror series (1962-1971). Many of these images juxtapose beauty and ugliness, youth and age, in the analysis of the female body. The space is often compressed by a curtain or close-up wall, so that the viewer is confronted by the symbolic identity of the protagonist.

Text from the Wikipedia website

“Mr. Cadmus’s exuberant use of homosexual themes in his work also encouraged Mr. Tooker to address that aspect of his identity in paintings like the terrifying, Bruegel-esque “Children and Spastics” (1946), in which a group of leering sadists torment three frail, effeminate men.

Equally influential was Jared French, part of Mr. Cadmus’s intimate circle, whose interest in Jungian archetypes and in the frigid, inscrutable forms of archaic Greek and Etruscan art inspired Mr. Tooker to take a more symbolic, mythic approach to his subject matter.”

William Grimes. “George Tooker, Painter Capturing Modern Anxieties, Dies at 90,” on The New York Times website, March 29, 2011

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Jared French' 1938

 

George Platt Lynes
Jared French
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1941

 

 

Jared French

Born in Ossining, New York, French received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College in 1925. Soon after this he met and befriended Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) in New York City, who became his lover. French persuaded Cadmus to give up commercial art for what he deemed, “serious painting”.

Jungian psychology is thought to have played an important influence upon the dream-like imagery in the paintings of French’s maturity. The highly stylized, archaic-looking figures in his paintings suggest that they are representative of the ancestral memory of all mankind, what Carl Jung called “the collective unconscious”. French himself was never explicit about the sources of his imagery, although on a stylistic level, the influence of early Italian Renaissance paintings by such masters as Mantegna and Piero della Francesca is evident, as it is also in the work of both Tooker and Cadmus. On the level of content, he made only one, short, public statement regarding his intentions:

“My work has long been concerned with the representation of diverse aspects of man and his universe. At first it was mainly concerned with his physical aspect and his physical universe. Gradually I began to represent aspects of his psyche, until in ‘The Sea’ (1946) and ‘Evasion’ (1947), I showed quite clearly my interest in man’s inner reality.” …

In 1938, French and Cadmus posed for a series photographs with the noted photographer George Platt Lynes (1907-1955). These photographs were not published or exhibited while Lynes was living and show the intimacy and relationship of the two. In the photographs, 14 of which survive today, the subjects, Cadmus and French, vacillate between exposure and concealment, with French generally being the more exhibitionist of the two. Cadmus stated that French was the model for all four male figures in his 1935 painting, Gilding the Acrobats, as well as his 1931 painting, Jerry.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Jared French. 'Billy the Kid costume sketch for "Billy's Last Act"' 1938

 

Jared French
Billy the Kid costume sketch for “Billy’s Last Act”
1938
Watercolour and pencil on printed paper on cardboard with ink and pencil
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1941

 

Jared French. 'Billy the Kid costume sketch for "Billy's Last Act"' 1938 (detail)

 

Jared French
Billy the Kid costume sketch for “Billy’s Last Act” (detail)
1938
Watercolour and pencil on printed paper on cardboard with ink and pencil
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1941

 

Jared French. 'Billy the Kid costume sketch for "Alias as Drunken Cowboy"' 1938

 

Jared French
Billy the Kid costume sketch for “Alias as Drunken Cowboy”
1938
Watercolour on paper on cardboard with felt-tip pen
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1941

 

Jared French. 'Billy the Kid costume sketch for "Alias as Drunken Cowboy"' 1938 (detail)

 

Jared French
Billy the Kid costume sketch for “Alias as Drunken Cowboy” (detail)
1938
Watercolour on paper on cardboard with felt-tip pen
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1941

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Fidelma Cadmus Kirstein' 1941

 

George Platt Lynes
Fidelma Cadmus Kirstein
1941
Gelatin silver print
George Platt Lynes Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Orpheus (Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Moncion)' 1950

 

George Platt Lynes
Orpheus (Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Moncion)
1950
Modern print
Courtesy ClampArt, New York

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Jimmie Daniels' Undated

 

George Platt Lynes
Jimmie Daniels
Undated
Gelatin silver print
George Platt Lynes Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

 

 

A fresh-faced teenager, Jimmie Daniels arrived in Harlem sometime during the mid-1920’s. He was lithe, delicate, and had an engaging, infectious smile that he would soon learn to use to his advantage. Singer Alberta Hunter, a lifelong friend, remembered the time well. “This one was just a little one” she said. “Handsome? Oh, was he handsome! He had hair as red as fire, and his folks had money.” Dare anyone have said that they thought the young, refined singer with the impeccable style, grace and proper enunciation was just a little snobbish and pretentious too?

It wouldn’t have mattered! It certainly would not have stopped the young, attractive Daniels from enjoying the ride of his youth, and becoming one of the most popular cafe singers and masters of ceremonies of the Harlem Renaissance. In demand from New York to Paris, these accomplishments were but stepping stones toward bigger and better things. Fortunately, the journey was documented by some of the leading photographers and artists of the time like George Platt Lynes, Carl Van Vechten and Richmond Barthe. And having several high profile, rich white boyfriends didn’t hurt him not one bit!

Text from the Fire Island Pines History website

 

 

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St., New York

Opening hours:
Open Daily 10am – 6pm

Museum of the City of New York website

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26
Jun
14

Photographs and text: George Platt Lynes and the male nude

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

 

Man Ray. 'George Platt Lynes' 1927

 

Man Ray
George Platt Lynes
1927

 

 

The greatest photographer of the male nude the world has ever seen – George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955).

Lynes worked as a fashion photographer in his own studio in New York (which he opened in 1932) before moving to Hollywood in 1946 where he took the post of Chief Photographer for the Vogue studios. Although an artistic success the sojourn was a financial failure and he returned to New York in 1948. Although continuing his commercial work he became disinterested in it, concentrating his energies on photographing the male nude. He began a friendship with Dr Alfred Kinsey of the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana and helped with his sex research. Between 1949 and 1955, Lynes sold and donated much of his erotic nudes to Kinsey.1 By May 1955 he had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer. He closed his studio. He destroyed much of his print and negative archives particularly his male nudes. However, it is now known that he had transferred many of these works to the Kinsey Institute. After a final trip to Europe, Lynes returned to New York City where he died.2

Since the early 1930s Lynes had photographed male nudes and distributed the images privately to his circle of friends. He 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, for he was a gay man “passing” in a homophobic society. 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 tend 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, rougher men shot in close up 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.

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 (see Untitled [Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball] c. 1942, below). Some of the faces in these later photographs remain hidden, as though disclosure of identity would be detrimental for fear of persecution or prosecution. However, this photograph is quite restrained compared to the most striking series of GPL’s photographs 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.

Further, 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. Most of the photographs list the names of the models used but we are unable to print them due to an agreement between GPL and Dr. Kinsey as to their secrecy.

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 influenced 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.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. Brown, Elspeth. “Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia,” on the In The Darkroom blog May 2013 [Online] Cited 24/06/2014.
2. “He clearly was concerned that this work, which he considered his greatest achievement as a photographer, should not be dispersed or destroyed…We have to remember the time period we’re talking about – America during the post-war Red Scare…”

Quotation from George Platt Lynes, The Male Nudes. Rizzoli International Pub, 2011 cited on “George Platt Lynes” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 24/06/2014.

 

Many thankx to Associate Professor Elspeth H. Brown for allowing me to publish her text “Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia”. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The depth and commitment he had in photographing the male nude, from the start of his career to the end, was astonishing. There was absolutely no commercial impulse involved – he couldn’t exhibit it, he couldn’t publish it.”

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Allen Ellenzweig

 

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (male nude with tattoo)' 1950-1955

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (male nude with tattoo)
1950-1955
Silver gelatin photograph
24.5 x 19.5 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' Nd [c. 1951]

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
Nd [c. 1951]
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Jack Fontan' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Jack Fontan
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.22

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.23

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.24

 

Samuel M. Steward. “George Platt Lynes,” in The Advocate, No. 332, December 10, 1981, pp. 22-24

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled [Charles 'Tex' Smutney, Charles 'Buddy' Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]' c. 1942

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled [Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]
c. 1942
Silver gelatin photograph

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According to David Leddick the models are Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball. The image comes from a series of 30 photographs of these three boys undressing and lying on a bed together. Leddick, David. Naked Men: Pioneering Male Nudes 1935-1955. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997, p. 21.

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Ted Starkowski (standing, arms folded)' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Ted Starkowski (standing, arms folded)
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph
22.9 x 19.1 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1952

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1952
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (male nude study)' Nd

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (male nude study)
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia

Associate Professor Elspeth H. Brown

This photograph [above] archives queer, illicit desire in Cold War America. It was made by George Platt Lynes, and is part of a set of male nudes that the photographer made in the decades leading to his death, from lung cancer, in 1955. Because exhibiting these photographs was a impossibility during Lynes’s lifetime due to Cold War homophobia, he circulated them privately among his queer kinship networks.

Lynes was part of a closely connected circle of elite gay men who dominated American arts and letters in the interwar and early post-war years. For 16 years, Lynes lived with the writer Glenway Wescott and museum curator Monroe Wheeler, who were a couple for over fifty years; they had a variety of other sexual partners throughout, including Lynes, who shared a bedroom with Wheeler during their years together. All three of them, as well as friends and colleagues Lincoln Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, and other leading figures, participated in sex parties in the 1940s and 1950s, as documented in their personal papers. However, in the context of 1950s-era red scares, which particularly focused on homosexuals, the more open sexual subcultures of the 1930s and 1940s were driven even further underground.

In April of 1950, Glenway Wescott wrote George Platt Lynes that while the erotic explicitness of George’s nudes didn’t personally concern him, he was worried for Monroe Wheeler, since Wheeler held a public position as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. “I really don’t mind scabrousness, etc., on my account, as you must know,” he wrote. “Only that our poor M [Monroe] must conclude his career with good effect and honor, I am anxious not to involve him in what is now called (in the nation’s capital) ‘guilty by association’ (have you been reading the columns and columns in the newspapers upon this and correlative points?).”

Although McCarthyism is often understood as the effort to purge suspected communists from the State Department and other branches of the federal government, the Red Scare equally targeted homosexuals, who were forced out of public service and into the closet. Wescott may well have been referring to the front page of the New York Times on March 1, 1950, where Secretary of State Dean Acheson testified about the Alger Hiss trial and the loyalty program at the State Department. Although the article purportedly concerned communism, it shows that the red scare mainly affected homosexuals, as Wescott clearly understood. Senator Bridges asked John E. Peurifoy, Deputy Under-Secretary of State in charge of the security program, how many members of the State Department had resigned since the investigations began in 1947. “Ninety-one persons in the shady category,” Mr. Peurifoy replied, “most of these were homosexuals.” This was not necessarily newsworthy in and of itself, so far as the New York Times was concerned in 1950, and the remainder of the article detailed the testimony relating to other aspects of the hearings.

Lynes continued to make and circulate his portraits, despite this climate of homophobia. He was very concerned that the work find an audience, and published it in several issues of the German homosexual journal Der Kreis in the 1950s. He also became an important informant for Alfred Kinsey’s research, as did Glenway Wescott and other members of their circle. Between 1949 and 1955, Lynes sold and donated much of his erotic nudes to Kinsey, where they are now part of the Kinsey Institute collections in Bloomington, Indiana.

© Elspeth H. Brown 2013
Associate Professor of History
University of Toronto

Reproduced with permission of the author.

Elspeth H. Brown website

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1951
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (Charles Romans in the artist's apartment)' 1953

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (Charles Romans in the artist’s apartment)
1953
Silver gelatin photograph
19.5 x 24.5 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Don Cerulli' 1952

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Don Cerulli
1952
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Male nude study' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Male nude study
1951
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1951
Silver gelatin photograph
22.9 x 19.1 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1936

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1936
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'George Tooker' 1945

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
George Tooker
1945
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Tex Smutney' 1943

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Tex Smutney
1943
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

Chronology by Jack Woody

1907-1924 Born April 15, 1907, East Orange, New Jersey. Raised in comfortable circumstances and privately educated. Schoolmate Lincoln Kirstein described the young Lynes as “precocious,” crediting him with a subsequent introduction to George Balanchine.

1925 Makes first trip to Europe. Meets lifetime companions Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler. Befriends Gertrude Stein, Pavel Tchelitchew and Jean Cocteau during his stay. Returns to New York City, works at Brentano’s Bookstore for a short time.

1926 Publishes the ‘As Stable Pamphlets’ in his parents’ house, Englewood, New Jersey. Includes Gertrude Stein’s DESCRIPTIONS OF LITERATURE and Ernest Hemingway’s first published play TODAY IS FRIDAY with cover designs by Pavel Tchelitchew and Jean Codeau. Enters Yale University in Autumn, leaves in December.

1927 Opens Park Place Book Shop in Englewood. The gift of a view camera encourages Lynes to make a career of photography.

1928-1930 During 1928 Lynes exhibits his celebrity portraits at Park Place Book Shop to launch a portrait business in the shop. Continues traveling to Europe, teaching himself by trial-and-error a technical understanding of the medium.

1931 Introduced to Julien Levy. Together they experiment with photographing surrealistic still-lifes. Levy arranges to include Lynes in Surrealism exhibition at Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut. Visits and photographs Gertrude Stein at Bilignin.

1932 First important exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in tandem with Walker Evans. The death of his father forces Lynes to take up photography as a means of economic support.

1933 Opens first New York City studio on East 50th Street. Continued public showings of his work and interest in his celebrity portraits attracts a large clientele of New York socialites and their families.

1934 Begins publishing his fashion and portrait work in such magazines as Town and Country, Harpers’ Bazaar and Vogue magazines.

1935 Invited by Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine to document the repertoire and principal dancers in their fledgling American Ballet (now New York City Ballet), a collaboration that will continue until Lynes’ death in 1955.

1936 Surrealistic composition ‘The Sleepwalker’ included in New York Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism.’ Lynes undertakes an extensive project to photographically interpret mythological situations.

1937-1940 Continues involvement with mythology series. Successful commercial career now headquartered in a large studio at 604 Madison Avenue. Commercial fashion accounts include Hattie Carnegie, Henri Bendel, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

1941-1945 Photographs airfield activities for First Air Force’s publicity and documentation. Begins to lose interest in commercial work, a process accelerated by the death of George Tichenor in 1942. Disillusioned with New York and his private life Lynes closes his studio and leaves for Los Angeles to head Vogue Magazine’s Hollywood studio.

1946-1947 Lynes begins to photograph in his rented Hollywood Hills home, experimenting with effects achieved with minimal amounts of available light. Photographs Christopher Isherwood, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley.

1948-1950 Friends sponsor the financially troubled Lynes’ return to New York where he is uninterested in and unable to repeat his earlier commercial successes. Economics force Lynes to experiment with cheaper photographic tools. He is particularly interested in the paper negative. Meets sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; impressed with Lynes’ work, Kinsey arranges to purchase hundreds of photographs for his Bloomington, Indiana institute.

1951-1954 Publishes his male nudes in homoerotic magazine ‘Der Kries’ using the pseudonyms Roberto Rolf and Robert Orville. Declares bankruptcy. Lives in a succession of apartments and studios as illness becomes apparent.

1955 In May diagnosed terminally ill with cancer. Last portrait sitting is June 16 with Monroe Wheeler. Closes studio and undergoes radium and drug therapy. Lynes begins to destroy large portions of his negative and print archives. In the Autumn he leaves for Europe, returning to New York in November to be hospitalized. At night Lynes leaves the hospital to attend the theatre and ballet. He dies on December sixth, forty-eight years old.

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Mel Fillini' 1950

 

George Platt Lynes
Mel Fillini
1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Robert McVoy' c. 1941

 

George Platt Lynes
Robert McVoy
c. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

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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 work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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