The “coming out” show in Norwalk may be canceled, but in observance of today’s National Coming Out Day, I’ll share proof that gay themes are still relevant in art. Exhibit A: A pair of shows at the Smithsonian.
“Lost and Found: The Lesbian and Gay Presence in the Archives of American Art” presents, “through letters, photographs, unpublished writings and rare printed material, glimpses into the sometimes private, sometimes ‘out’ lives, careers and communities of gay American artists, the institution announced.”
I complain sometimes about the “macho” gallery scene, but art communities have historically presented safe places for gays. “Indeed, lesbian and gay visual, literary and performing artists were the first in American history to live openly in same-sex relationships and express their sexuality, well before the modern lesbian and gay civil rights movement,” according to a press release announcing the show.
This exhibition runs alongside “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery. “Hide/Seek” explores “the role of sexual difference in depicting modern Americans” and “how artists have explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender,” among other broader themes.
The installation begins with late 19th century works by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent tears through the 20th century as it depicts “the impact of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the AIDS epidemic and the advent of postmodernist attention to identities indicating how portraiture repeatedly negotiated seismic shifts in American culture and society.”
The official media release puts it well:
Long before the advent of today’s gay and lesbian movement there were many examples of art—paintings, sculptures, water colors, prints and photographs—that acknowledged a variety of sexual identities. This exhibition features artists and sitters with a range of identities, from exclusively same-sex to exclusively heterosexual.
Among the objects in the exhibition are Salutat by Eakins; Painting No. 47, Berlin by Hartley; Brooks’ 1923 oil-on-canvas self-portrait; Rrose Selavy (Marcel Duchamp), 1920 by Man Ray; a photograph of Janet Flanner taken in 1927 by Berenice Abbott; Canto XIV [from XXIV Drawings from Dante’s Inferno] by Rauschenberg; We Two Boys Together Clinging by David Hockney; Troy Diptych and Camouflage Self-Portrait both by Warhol; Souvenir by Johns; Felix, June 5, 1994, by AA Bronson; and Ellen DeGeneres in Kauai, Hawaii by Annie Leibovitz.