Hide/Seek

Jonathan Katz, David C. Ward, and Jennifer Sichel. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2010. Hardcover. 295pp. $45.00. ISBN: 978-1-58834-299-7.

Hide/Seek is the companion volume to an exhibit of the same name presented at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution from October 30, 2010 to February 13, 2011. Martin E. Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, writes in the foreword that this was the “first major museum exhibition to chart the influence of gay and lesbian artists on modern American portraiture.” Co-curator Jonathan Katz, in his lengthy and thoughtful introductory essay, places the works within a historical context and describes a more expansive intention. He writes that “Hide/Seek features straight artists representing gay figures, gay artists representing gay figures, and even straight artists representing straight figures (when of interest to gay people/culture).”

Opening with Thomas Eakins’s 1891 photograph of Walt Whitman, the 98 featured portraits trace the sweep of societal change from a time before same-sex desire had crystallized into a social identity, through gender nonconformity and the “New Woman” of the 1920s, to recurrent outbreaks of concern over “public hygiene,” Joseph McCarthy’s Lavender Scare, post-Stonewall celebration and liberation, the age of AIDS, and beyond.

A great many of the artists will likely be familiar to readers with an interest in twentieth century art. There is an insouciant male nude by John Singer Sargent; Romaine Brooks’s formidable self- portrait (and one of a dandified Una, Lady Troubridge, complete with monocle and dachshunds); Carl Van Vechten’s charming photograph of Antony Tudor and Hugh Laing, discretely holding hands; Alice Neel’s painting of Frank O’Hara, and Jasper Johns’ diptych inspired by an O’Hara poem; an exuberant (and chaste) self-portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe; Andrew Wyeth’s illustration of his nude and rather godlike neighbor standing in a wheatfield; Keith Haring’s Unfinished Painting, created the year before his death; several works by Andy Warhol; and many other solemnities and delights.

The original exhibit drew controversy when David Wojnarowicz’s short video, “A Fire in My Belly,” was removed by the Smithsonian in deference to complaints from the Catholic League and Rep. John Boehner. No stills from the video appear here, although there are a number of Wojnarowicz’s photographs, including one in which he has nearly vanished into the soil.

As of this writing, a website featuring exhibit highlights is still accessible.

Includes 98 plates, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

Recommended for libraries with an interest in art or GLBT history.

 

Reviewed by, Joyce Meggett
Division Chief for Humanities

Chicago Public Library

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