Hide/Seek

Hide/Seek is a gay-centric group show organized by the Smithsonian, now on its West Coast tour. The rainbow roster includes heavyweight names like Eakins, O'Keeffe, Rauschenberg, Mapplethorpe, and Warhol. Mostly men, with few up-and-comers here, the exhibit is like a pantheon of Dead White Gay Men (DWGM). The roughly 90 works—mostly paintings and photos, plus a few videos—are divided into historical and post-WWII galleries. Thus it's possible to construct a happy historical progression from Walt Whitman's 19th-century freedom to the closet (and its codes) to Stonewall and AIDS and, finally, gay marriage. The problem with this kind of up-from-slavery reading of the art, as the DWGM might tell you, is that their lives and circumstances weren't so simple. Was Andy Warhol more or less free, more or less tormented, than Thomas Eakins? Which man put more of himself into his art, imbued it with more longing or less sex? A good example of this ambiguity is Grant Wood's 1930 Arnold Comes of Age, impossible to see now as anything but a screaming case of repression. Prim, prissy, V-necked Arnold turns away from some nude male bathers in what—disgust, longing, self-disgust, fear, or Protestant self-denial? Lips pursed, hair neatly combed, he's both pitiable and ridiculous. There's a Midwestern sadness to his not getting what he (presumably) wants in life, but are all "liberated" gay men truly happy today? Full of good individual pieces, Hide/Seek means well, but it's inherently reductive. The show doesn't exactly create a Fire Island ghetto of gay artists; rather, it subordinates individual achievement to group identity. I'd much rather see a Warhol show, a Minor White show, a Marsden Hartley show than a greatest-gay-hits sampler such as this. BRIAN MILLER

Wednesdays, Fridays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Starts: March 17. Continues through June 10, 2012

 
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