As authors Katz (State University of New York, Buffalo) and Ward (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution) demonstrate in this exhibition catalogue, portraiture has long been a genre that flies somewhat under the radar, but this seemingly unenviable attribute is partly what gives it its unique power. Drawing upon a range of recent scholarship, this beautifully illustrated catalogue examines a wide variety of American portraits from the late-19th century to the present, bringing to light the extent to which the expression of same-sex desire in such works has often existed just beneath the surface of appearances, sometimes boldly stated but usually carefully coded within a tangle of cultural camouflage. In addition to excellent essays, the catalogue examines each work succinctly with caption paragraphs that provide specific information pertaining to both artist and subject matter. The writing is clear and accessible throughout, but also richly nuanced in a way that pays tribute to the subtleties of expression that exist within the artworks themselves. An invaluable resource for both students and advanced researchers focusing on issues related to sexuality and representation, this work is also well suited to general audiences. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. – M. R. Freeman, Western Oregon University
This volume, accompanying the National Portrait Gallery’s fall 2010 exhibit, is the first of its scope (1891–2003) on gay and lesbian portraiture in the context of American art and culture. Through the work of such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Keith Haring, Andrew Wyeth, Andy Warhol, Catherine Opie, and Robert Mapplethorpe, the portrait exhibit showcases a range of mediums, from photography and painting to installation and performance. By exploring such questions as gender, sexual identity, and the AIDS epidemic, Katz (director, visual studies, SUNY at Buffalo) and Ward (historian, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Inst.) investigate the role of the American artist in representing the LGBT community to the greater art world. A thoughtful explanation places each portrait within historical and conceptual context. VERDICT Recommended for all students in undergraduate and graduate art programs and for all programs in LGBT studies.—Shauna Frischkorn, Millersville Univ., PA
Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, a survey of portrait art by and about lesbian and gay artists, ably addresses questions of disclosure and revelation in the work of twentieth-century artists. The book was published to accompany the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery exhibit of the same name (October 2010 to February 2011); besides the visual delight of seeing works by some of this country’s most acclaimed artists, the exhibit and book unveil and decode the contributions of lesbian and gay artists to American modernism, offering a new way of thinking about American portraiture of the past hundred years. One of the ways in which a society invalidates the experience, and even the lives, of its marginalized members is by obscuring or destroying the history and stories of those lives. Jonathan D. Katz and David C. Ward show how American society has attempted to do so with the history and stories of the lesbian and gay community, creating a situation in which its members are seen as “other,” and demonized for their difference. Especially moving is the Annie Leibovitz photographic portrait of Ellen DeGeneres, a study at once conflicted and beautiful in its “carnival of visual signs.” Coming out, said DeGeneres, was a freeing experience, “because people can’t hurt me anymore.”
Authors Katz and Ward bring these stories to light and return them to the history of American art and culture, thus enriching it by calling it to recognize, if not yet wholly embrace, all of its members. They say of Walt Whitman in his time that, “It was Whitman’s essence as a gay man that allowed him to ask American democracy to fulfill its promise.” This important and compelling work demands the same of our country today. It goes a long way toward restoring the history, narrative, and legacy of artists who, in spite of being marginalized, have made lasting contributions to American art and culture.
Katz founded and directed the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale University and is director of the Visual Studies doctoral program at SUNY–Buffalo. Ward is a historian at the National Portrait Gallery, and the author of Charles Willson Peale: Art and Selfhood in the Early Republic. He is also a poet and critic.