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Male Desire: The Homoerotic in American Art

Male Desire: The Homoerotic in American ArtMale Desire: The Homoerotic in American Art by Jonathan Weinberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The cover art of this book is a detail from a painting by our friend Harold Stephenson, an artist from Idabel, Oklahoma. It is a detail from "The New Adam," the most monumental male nude in American art history. It is forty feet long and hangs on three walls of the gallery. It is of the actor Sal Mineo. Harold did it in the early 60's and the piece was not show in the exhibit it was intended for. After being shown a few places, it disappeared into storage until the Aughts and was then bought by the Guggenheim. It hung in the New York branch for a while a few years ago, though it wasn't up when I visited there in 2009.

We were very excited for Harold when the book came out. Our friend Mary Jane bought a copy then. It was a pricey art book, so I couldn't afford it. I looked a month or so ago and discovered it was now half-price, so I purchased it.

The book is beautiful and sexy, with lots of great iconic images and many lesser known pieces. It covers a period beginning with Thomas Eakins and ending with the contemporary scene in 2003. Along the way it not only discusses the major artists you would expect (Hartley, Rauschenberg, Warhol) but also graphic artists, advertisers, gay cartoonists, and more.

The writing is very good, and I learned a lot from the analysis. It reminded me of my burst of reading in queer history, theory, and lit back in 2004-5, in particular some parallels with a book on the history of gay male American lit.

One thing that the book does remind you of, the effort for better social treatment of gay men began in the 19th century. It had a burst of energy pre-WWII, but post-war society sent most people back into the closet. It was only with the sexual revolution of the 60's and the subsequent post-Stonewall political movements and AIDS epidemic that the tide began to change for the positive again.

It made me angry, again, about the slow-pace of our civil rights movement. I had a Roman Catholic official tell me last December that we needed to move more slowly. Hmm. Our first major gay and lesbian civil rights march on Washington, D. C. was in the 1950's. I think you've had enough time to figure out if you are inclusive or a bigot.

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