Posts Tagged ‘Minor White Tom Murphy (San Francisco)

27
Sep
12

Text: ‘The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 30th September 2012

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Vision (Orpheus Scene)' 1907

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
The Vision (Orpheus Scene)
1907
Platinum print
24.4 x 18.4 cm (9 5/8 x 7 1/4 in.)

 

 

“Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph. There are certain pictures I’ve taken in which you really can’t move that leaf or that hand. It’s where it should be, and you can’t say it could have been there. There is nothing to question as in a great painting. I often have trouble with contemporary art because I find it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have to be anatomically correct to be perfect either. A Picasso portrait is perfect. It’s just not questionable. In the best of my pictures, there’s nothing to question – it’s just there.”

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Robert Mapplethorpe

 

 

Written in 1996 (but never published until now), this is one of my earliest pieces of research and writing. While it is somewhat idealistic in many ways, hopefully this piece still has some relevance for the reader for there are important ideas contained within the text.

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Germany 'Two nude men standing in a forest' Taormina, Sicily, 1899

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931)
Two nude men standing in a forest
Taormina, Sicily, 1899
Albumen print

 

 

The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body

Photography has portrayed the Apollonian and Dionysian ideals of the body throughout its history, but has never fully explored the theoretical implications and consequences of this pairing. Our presentation of the body says precise things about the society in which we live, the degree of our integration within that society and the controls which society exerts over the innerman.1 My research concentrated on how images of the male body, as a representation of the Self/Other split, have been affected by these ideals.

We can clearly define the Apollonian (beauty, perfection, obsession, narcissism, voyeurism, idols, fascism, frigid, constraint, oppression, the defined, the personalised, an aggression of the eye linked to greed and desire) and Dionysian (ecstasy, eroticism, hysteria, energy, anarchy, promiscuity, death, emotion, bodily substances and the universal). In reality the boundaries between these ideals are more ambiguous.

For example, in the work of the American photographer Fred Holland Day we see allegorical myths portrayed by beautiful youths, many of which to modern eyes have a powerful homoerotic quality.

“In close proximity to eroticism associated with homosocial bonding and sexuality, these pictures were infused with desire and anxiety, repulsion and attraction … Day’s male nudes possess the aesthetic trappings of refined art and high culture … but also contain a frisson of impending sexual release and bodily pleasure, to say nothing of their sado-erotic inflection and paedophilic associations.”2

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According to some critics,3 societies acceptance of photographs of Apollonian or Orphic (Dionysian) youths [see 2 different critical views]4 in that era (the fin de siecle of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century), was based on what was seen as their chaste, idyllic nature. They represented ‘ephebes’ – males who were between boy and man – who posed no threat to the patriarchal status quo. To other critics5 these ‘ephebes’ present a challenge to the construction of heterosexual / homosexual identity along gender lines, echoing Foucault’s thoughts on the imprisoning nature of categories of sexual identity.6

For Day, physical beauty was the testimony of a transcendent spirit.7 His portraits tried to uncover the true spirit of his subjects, revealing what was hidden behind the mask of e(x)ternal beauty. But what was being revealed? Was it the subject’s own spiritual integrity, his true self, or a false self as directed by the photographer whose instructions he was enacting? Was it F. Holland Day’s erotic fantasies the subject was acting out, or was it a perception of his own identity or a combination of both? These works show Day as both director and collaborator, his idols equally unattainable and available, resilient and vulnerable. In portraying this beauty, was Day embracing a seductive utopia in which this Apollonian beauty leads away from the very Dionysian spirit he was trying to engage with?

At around the same time a Prussian named Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was also taking photographs of scantily clad local peasant youths, based on Arcadian themes. “In von Gloeden’s perception of the world human figures are not in themselves merely erotic, but become aesthetic objects … a setting in which beautiful things are the content of the image.”8

While this may be true, the focus of the images is always on what Von Gloeden desired, his full frontal nudes drawing our eyes to the locus of sexual desire, the penis. Von Gloeden’s “transformation of ordinary working class boys into the very image of antique legend,”9 the conjunction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, blurs the distinctions between the two. Both Day and Von Gloeden were wealthy, educated, influential men who had a desire for working class boys. Did they help create an erotic tension across class lines and effect a particular Camp taste when society at that time (the first decade of the 20th century) was beginning to define areas of sexual categorisation that would label gay men perverts and degenerates? Even today, comparing contemporary critical analysis of Von Gloeden’s photographs can produce vastly differing conceptualisations as to the evidence of sexual overtones:

“The distinction between form and sexual attractiveness is tenuously maintained and the expression of the subjects’ face suggests a lofty remoteness rather than sexual availability or provocativeness.”10

“Von Gloeden’s pictures are fairly specific in depicting erotically based encounters between Mediterranean males. In many of them, the gazes shared between young men or the suggestive relationships of figure to figure hint at activities that might take place beyond the cameras range.”11

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For Day and Von Gloeden the need to possess something beautiful, something that was taboo, compensated both photographers for something they had lost – their youth. This transfers their death onto the object of their possession; the beautiful youths ‘captured’ in their photographs. Georges Bataille links eroticism to the inner life of man, the true self, and the eroticism of these photographs opens the way to a viewing of death and allows the photographer the power to look death in the face. According to Bataille, possession of something beautiful negates our need to die because we have objectified our need in someone else.12

What we know and understand about the world is partially built on images that are recorded, interpreted and imprinted in our brains as the result of the experiences we encounter throughout our lives. Our memory is forever fragmenting our remembered reality. It provides us with a point of view of the reality of the world in which we live and on which our identities are formed. When we look at a photograph we (sub)consciously bring all of our social encultration, our hates, our desires and our spirit to bear on the definition of that photograph at the time of viewing (an each viewing can be different!). Inherently embedded in any photograph then, are all these Dionysian stirrings – of desire, of eroticism, of death and of memory. Even if the photograph is entirely Apollonian in content the definition of that photograph can be open to any possibility, by any body.

One photographer who sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths was the American photographer Minor White. Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle.13 When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph. White feared public exposure as a homosexual and struggled for years to resist the shame and disgust he felt over his sexual desires. Very few of his male portraits were exhibited during his lifetime, his Dionysian urgings difficult to reconcile with or assimilate into his images of peace and serenity, images that urged unity of self and spirit, of yin and yang. In the East yin / yang is both / and, being transformable and interpenetrating whilst in the West black / white is either/or not both, being exclusive and non-interactive. But who is to say what is ugly or what is beautiful? What is black or what is white?

In the work of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we can see the formalised classical aesthetic of beauty combined with content which many people are repelled by (pornography, sexuality, violence, power) creating work which is both Apollonian and Dionysian.14 Peoples’ disgust at the content of some of Mapplethorpe’s images is an Apollonian response, an aesthetic judgement, a backing away from a connection to ‘nature’, meaning ‘that which is born’. Mapplethorpe said, “I’ve done everything I show in my photographs,”15 revealing a connection to an inner self, regardless of whether he intended to shock. Those seeking suppression of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, mainly conservative elements of society, cite the denigration of moral values as the main reason for their attacks. However Mapplethorpe’s S&M photographs sought to re-present the identity of a small subculture of the gay community that exists within the general community and by naming this subculture he sought to document and validate its existence. The photograph can and does lie but here was the ‘truth’ of these Dionysian experiences, which conservative bigots could not deny – that they exist.

In the NEA/Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe16 his work was defended on aesthetic grounds, not on the grounds of homoerotic content, of freedom of expression or artistic freedom. The classical Apollonian form of his images was emphasised. As one juror put it, “Going in, I would never have said the pictures have artistic value. Learning as we did about art, I and everyone else thought they did have some value. We are learning about something ugly and harsh in society.”17 Ugly and harsh. To some people in the world S&M scenes are perfectly natural and beautiful and can lead to the most transcendent experience that a human being can ever have in their life. Who is to decide for the individual his or her freedom to choose?

This Apollonian fear of the Dionysian ‘Other’, the emotional chaotic self, was found to involve fear of that which is potentially the ‘same as’ – two sides of the same coin. This fear of ‘the same’, or of the proximity of the same, or of the threat of the same, can lead to violence, homophobia, racism and bigotry. Mapping out sexual identities’ toleration of difference, which is ‘the same as’, recognises that there are many different ways of being, and many truths in the world.

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In conclusion I have determined that the definition of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body are at best ambiguous and open to redefinition and reinterpretation. The multiplicity of readings that can be attached to images of the male body, in different eras, by different people illustrates the very problematic theoretical area these images inhabit. As we seek to ‘name’, to categorise, to nullify the ‘Other’ as a Dionysian connection to earth and nature, it may cause an alienated ‘Self’ to revolt against Apollonian powers of control in order to break down the lived distance that divides people. This creates situations / encounters / experiences that are regarded as transgressive and a threat to the hegemonic fabric of society.

But do these experiences offer an alternative path for the evolution of the human race? Not the replacing of one patriarchal, capitalist system with another based on ecstatic spiritual consciousness but perhaps a more level playing field, one based on a horizontal consciousness (a balance between Apollonian and Dionysian), a ‘knowing’ and understanding, a respect for our self and others. My claim as an’Other’ is that these perceived transgressions, not just the binary either / or, may ultimately free human beings and allow them to experience life and grow. Where nothing is named, everything is possible.

Marcus Bunyan 1996

 

  1. Blain, Robert. The Decorated Body. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979, p. 5, Introduction
  2. Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering the Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p. 11
  3. Foster, Alasdair. Behold The Man – The Male Nude In Photography. Edinburgh: Stills, 1989, p. 9
  4. Jussim, Estelle. Slave To Beauty – The Eccentric Life And Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete. Boston: Godine, 1981, pp. 175-176; Ellenzweig, Allan. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University, 1992, p. 59
  5. Ellenzweig, p. 59
  6. Weeks, Jeffrey. Against Nature:  Essays on history, sexuality and identity. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1991, p. 164
  7. Day, F. Holland. “Is Photography An Art?” p. 8, quoted in Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p. 20
  8. Ellenzweig, p. 39
  9. Leslie, Charles. Wilhelm von Gloeden, Photographer. New York: Soho Photographic, 1997, p. 86
  10. Dutton, Kenneth R. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 95
  11. Ellenzweig, p. 43
  12. Bataille, Georges. Death And Sensuality. New York: Walker And Company, 1962, p. 24
  13. Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind – Collected Essays On Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution And Epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, 1973
  14. Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe – Playing With The Edge. Essay. London: Jonathon Cape, 1992, p. 331
  15. Interview with Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London: Routledge, 1986, p. 286
  16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1
  17. Cembalest, Robin. “The Obscenity Trial: How They Voted To Acquit,” in Art News December 1990 89 (10), p. 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, p. 208

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

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
1948
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self Portrait
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Derrick Cross
1983
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Thomas
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Two Tulips
1984
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

A renowned figure of contemporary photography, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was in his element in a domain defined by conventions and revolt, classicism and non-conformist cultures, where each picture serves as a document of hard-fought identities, as well as inciting and recording social and artistic debates. The Ludwig Museum Budapest features nearly two hundred works by Robert Mapplethorpe, from his early Polaroid photos to pieces from his final years. Realised in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation New York, this large-scale exhibition is presented to a Hungarian audience for the first time.

Initially, Mapplethorpe had no intention of becoming a photographer. His early collages and altar-like installations incorporated found elements including photos from magazines. Seeking to give these works a more personal and perfect touch, he decided to shoot the photos himself. His major subjects were his immediate environment and personal desires: the alternative circles of the New York art scene, his identity as a homosexual, non-traditional forms of sexuality, and the communities organised around them. The New York of the seventies was a great melting pot of contiguous subcultures, sexual freedom, post-Pop and rock’n’roll. Mapplethorpe’s environment included Andy Warhol and his entourage from the Factory, the superstars of his films as well as the inhabitants of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, who inspired his art and became part of his audience.

His portraits of famous individuals and those longing for fame also positioned their photographer within their circle. He was a renowned artist seeking to establish relationships with people who stand out, one way or another, from the rest of society, without submitting himself to them. Posing for his camera were film stars, musicians, writers and visual artists, the celebrities and central figures of New York in the seventies and eighties, including pornographic film stars and body builders. He made engaging and elegant portraits attesting to his intense attention, humour, and ambition toward a sense of the monumental.

Mapplethorpe developed an increasingly committed and professional attitude to photography. His quest for the perfect image led him to classical compositions and subjects. While precision of forms and a quality of reserve were combined in his works, his intense attention to his models remained unchanged; he photographed torsos and floral still-lifes with the same cool professionalism. His nudes evoke classical Greek statues and Renaissance masterpieces, with their arrangement and sculptural approach to the body dating back to traditions that have existed for several hundred years. Such an incarnation of classical formalism, however, was juxtaposed with shocking new subjects and stark sexual fetishes, resulting in radical re-creations of the approach to tradition.

The perfect image called for the perfect body: his shots of black men, female body-builders and austere flowers seem to articulate his one and only vision, again and again. He almost always worked in the studio, most often in black and white, using increasingly defined tones. With unified backgrounds and balance of forms, his photos remove the subjects from their own realities to relocate them in the timeless, frozen space of the photograph. In terms of their statue-like beauty and rigorous composition of every detail, his pictures continue and renew the classical photographic tradition all at once. Such classical virtues, however, did not make these photos exempt from criticism: both his subject matter and their manner of presentation sparked controversy. Their sexual themes aroused unease, and criticism of the work failed to make a distinction between the statue-like beauty of body parts and torsos, the sexual stereotypes associated with black male bodies, and the objectification of the bodies.

Mapplethorpe’s works created a place for homosexual and S&M identities in the domain of high art, subverting conventions, transgressing unspoken social agreements and revealing prejudices, in line with the artist’s personal desires and self-definition. In the United States, during the eighties, in the first moments of horror in the face of AIDS, the condemnation of homosexuality and the undefined dread of the disease became entwined. Such developments stirred up the already intense controversies around Mapplethorpe’s photos, adding a new overtone to the voice of conservative protesters. (Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and he died in the spring of 1989 due to complications related to the disease).

The cultural-political debates of the so-called Culture Wars in the late 1980s and 1990s in the United States, fuelled the decision of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to cancel its leg of the travelling exhibition “The Perfect Moment,” which included several thought-provoking photos that the conservative right-wing had denounced as obscene and arrogant assaults on public taste. A long and heated debate was to follow, including both hysterical and absurd commentaries, triggering police actions and a trial against a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as well as its director. Though the museum and its director were eventually cleared of all charges, the case continued to shape the cultural-political landscape in the US, which partly concluded in a revision of the public funding of artworks and is still referred to today as an outstanding example of the methodology of censorship.

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Untitled
c. 1973
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ajitto
1981
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self Portrait
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

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Hungary 06 1 555-3444

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09
Feb
12

Text/Exhibition: “George Platt Lynes, Minor White and ‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors’ ” on the exhibition ‘HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture’ at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

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

 

Minor White. 'Tom Murphy (San Francisco)' 1948

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
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

 

 

“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)

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Michel Foucault 1

 

 

George Platt Lynes, Minor White and The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors

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 below. 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. Later published as an online-only feature accompanying Aperture magazine’s Spring 2015 issue, “Queer”), 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 below] 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 below], 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 (below).

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.

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.

.
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

 

.
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.

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.

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors' 1948

 

(top)
Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
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 (American, 1908-1976)
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

 

 Minor White. 'Tom Murphy (San Francisco)' 1948  George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' Nd

 

(left)
Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
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 
(American, 1907-1955)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (Frontal Male Nude)' Nd (early 1950s)

 

George Platt Lynes
Untitled (Frontal Male Nude)
Nd (early 1950s)
Gelatin silver print

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) 'Walt Whitman' (American, 1818-1892) 1891

 

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

 

Charles Demuth. 'Dancing Sailors' 1917

 

Charles Demuth (American, 1883-1935)
Dancing Sailors
1917
Watercolour and pencil on paper
20.3 x 25.4cm
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Mr and Mrs William H Marlatt Fund

 

George Wesley Bellows (American, 1882-1925) 'Riverfront No.1' 1915

 

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

 

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943) 'Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane' 1933

 

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

 

 

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 stylised, 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)

 

Peter Hujar (1937-1987) 'Susan Sontag' (1933-2004) 1975

 

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

 

Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990). 'Unfinished Painting' 1989

 

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

 

David Wojnarowicz. 'A Fire In My Belly' (Film In Progress) (film still), 1986-87

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
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

 

 

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.”

 

 

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, organised 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 marginalisation, 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 organised by the Brooklyn Museum, also on view this fall.”

In addition to its commentary on a marginalised 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 industrialised 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 neighbour 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

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) 'Janet Flanner' (1892-1978) 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Janet Flanner (American, 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.

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844 -1916) 'Salutat' 1898

 

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

 

Walker Evans. 'Lincoln Kirstein' 1930

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Lincoln Kirstein (American, 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

 

 

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 organising ability and fundraising for more than four decades, serving as the company’s general director from 1946 to 1989. According to the New York Times, he was “an expert in many fields,” organising art exhibits and lecture tours in the same years.

 

Marsden Hartley. 'Painting No. 47, Berlin' 1915

 

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
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

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Marsden Hartley' 1942

 

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

 

Beauford Delaney (American, 1901-1979) 'James Baldwin' 1963

 

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

 

 

Cass Bird (American, b. 1974)
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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Phone: (718) 638-5000

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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: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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