Influential Margins: LGBTQ Artists in The American Tradition of Portraiture
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Two months after Robert Mapplethorpe's death in 1989, Washington D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art cancelled a solo show of his photographs featuring nude men and homosexual language. Considered scandalous by several members of Congress, threats ensued. Fear of losing future federal grants caused the private gallery to cancel the show.
Twenty one years later, this October, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. opened the first ever museum show addressing the presence and influence of LGBTQ artists in the American tradition of portraiture. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture traces an evolution of same sex themes and codes from the Gilded Age through the end of the twentieth century.
Annie Leibovitz, Ellen DeGeneres, Kauai, Hawaii, 1997. Gelatin silver print, 20 x 16". Collection of the artist. © Annie Leibovitz 2010.
This show proves that American artists have been investigating portrayals of homosexuality, female body image and spaces of gender long before the 70s—an era branded as the one dismantling such social structures. Not all artists in the show are homosexual. Among the almost one hundred pieces are major works by George Bellows, Romaine Brooks, AA Boson, Thomas Eakins, Peter Hujar, Annie Leibovitz, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Nan Goldin, Marsden Hartley, David Hockney, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Mapplethorpe, Agnes Martin, Andy Warhol.
Co-curators David C. Ward (historian at the National Portrait Gallery) and Jonathan Katz (activist academic and scholar) were kind enough to answer my questions about this substantial and ground-breaking show.
I'd like to congratulate you both on such an ambitious project. How did this exhibit shape itself from inception to installation?
David C. Ward: Thanks. This exhibition grew out of my Walt Whitman exhibition of 2006 in which I showed a portrait of Whitman and his lover Peter Doyle and discussed their relationship in the label. Jonathan, who I did not know, introduced himself and asked if I had had trouble getting that label up on the wall because that was the first time that the Whitman-Doyle relationship had ever been acknowledged in a major museum exhibition.
From this, we evolved a discussion about the silence and contribution of LGBT artists in the creation of