Gay Art: A Movement, or at Least a Moment

MAYBE it doesn’t signal the arrival of a major arts movement and maybe it is just a symptom of another consumer-driven microtrend, but it would seem that something is afoot in the contemporary art world and it concerns what you could call, for lack of more comprehensive terminology, a burgeoning of gay male art.

You can spot it at galleries like John Connelly Presents or Daniel Reich in Chelsea, or at Peres Projects in Los Angeles, or making a splash in the sales booths at any of the virally replicating international art fairs. It is also, most recently, displayed in “The Male Gaze,” a just-opened group show at the powerHouse Arena in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, that makes clear how a new generation of artists is addressing itself frankly to the varied and mutating shapes of sexuality.

Although there are some older artists like Jack Pierson on view at the gallery in Brooklyn, most belong to a generation born in the ’80s and too young to have experienced AIDS’ full brunt or the identity politics of that era firsthand. Many, as has been noted by others before, have barely experienced gayness as a threatened condition. Thus they seem to have skipped past self-acceptance and the hoary dramas of the closet, and moved directly to forms of expression that are frank, exuberant, celebratory, bawdy and not infrequently marked by the spirit of juvenilia that the (heterosexual) photographer and filmmaker Larry Clark has been mining for years.

“The art we’re showing,” said Nicholas Weist, the curator of “The Male Gaze,” an assembly of more than 20 mostly young gay artists, among them such collectors’ darlings as Christian Holstad, Scott Hug and Michael Magnan, “argues for a new kind of alternativism that reacts against the mainstream of the culture.” Not so surprisingly, that includes that expanding part of the mainstream that is gay.

No single art show is a Stonewall, of course, and this burgeoning scene is hardly equivalent to a battle for the cultural ramparts. Yet there are signs that something livelier is at play than some random shows at a select group of galleries.

The most persuasive evidence of this may be the crop of gay art publications that now line the shelves at venerable outposts of culture like the Printed Matter artists’ bookstore on 10th Avenue.

“I’ve noticed a huge number of little gay periodicals coming out and they’re all focused toward the creative end of things,” said AA Bronson, the artist and director of Printed Matter, citing publications like Kaiserin, a French magazine “for boys with problems”; Pinups, a coyly elaborate one-image publication by the Brooklyn artist Christopher Schulz; Shoot, the photographer Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s autobiographical me-and-my-naked-friends magazine; the provocative Australian zine They Shoot Homos Don’t They?; and Daddy, a spray-painted, limited edition production that comes vacuum-packed and with a stylishly tattered customized T-shirt attached.

There are others, from Sweden, Poland and Germany and also hipster outposts throughout Canada and the United States. One would list them all if some titles weren’t too outright raunchy to be printed here.

This is not to say the magazines are pornographic, although the images they present are often sexually candid. Rather, they, like much of the gay art now being made — and so much art and music and culture of all types — seem to hybridize a generalized fetish for youth culture, for self-exposure, for the small and the intimate and apolitical. They are as solipsistic as a Rufus Wainwright lyric. They are as whimsical as one of the neo-hippie Devendra Banhart’s tunes. They have a proudly do-it-yourself aura, but what, these days, does not?

Almost all of the magazines are new, which is to say that their first issues were produced within the past year. And, just as significant, said Mr. Bronson, many are among the top sellers among the thousands of titles Printed Matter displays.

“I’m not sure if I’d say what’s happening is a movement or a moment,” said Vince Aletti, an independent curator and photography critic for The New Yorker, referring to the latest iteration of gay culture. No one does.

Delphi, Om-Phalos und Shiva-Lingam

Bei den Griechen und Römern war das Orakel von Delphi eine kulturelle Institution. Über 2000 Jahre lang pilgerten sie nach Delphi, um Ratschläge von dem Orakel zu erhalten. Der Sage nach wurde die bewußtseinserweiternde Eigenschaft der gashaltigen Quelle von Schäfern an ihren Schafen entdeckt, die plötzlich mit ihnen sprachen. Der Höhepunkt war von 800 bis 500 v.Chr. und um 600 v.Chr. baute Kleistenes die Tempelanlagen um die Orakelstätte machtpolitisch zu nutzen. Unter Kaiser Theodosius wurde die Orakelstätte 391 n.Chr. geschlossen.

Die Weissagungen kamen von einer Frau, die sich in einer engen Kammer in einer Art Trance befand. Diese Kammer des Tempels befand sich über einer Quelle in der das Gas Ethylen gelöst war. Durch ein Loch in der Bodenplatte und durch den darüber stehenden Om-Phalos hindurch, stieg das Gas in die Kammer auf.

Original Om-Phalos
Om-Phalos Rekonstruktion
Die Phytia wurde high während sie das Gas einatmete und in eine Schale mit Wasser starrte. Dann sprach Sie "in Zungen" und die Priester übersetzten dann die Botschaft für den Ratsuchenden.

Diese Abbildungen zeigen die extatischen, dionysischen Feste, die in Epidauros gefeiert wurden.

Der hinduistische Shiva Lingam hat die gleiche bedeutung wie der Om-Phalos, beiden wird auch eine sexuelle Bedeutung zugewiesen, primär ist aber die Bedeutung als Symbol für die galaktische Achse.

Kenya’s descent into tribalism

— Lying in a hospital bed in this rural hub of Kenya’s Rift Valley, a man describes surviving two machete wounds to his head and multiple slashes to his hands. He says he was attacked by people who now live by the rules of tribalism.

They have to be stopped, he said. It is the work of the devil.

Nearby, another machete-attack survivor, John Machana, said he thought he was a dead man when he was attacked.

I was sure they would kill me, he said, nursing slashes to his backside and still lying in his blood-stained clothes. They told me the blood in Kenya now had to be pure and clean, and they accused me of being of mixed tribal blood.

Both men are among the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans victimized by a weeklong spate of violence after the nation’s disputed presidential election.

The Kenyan Red Cross says it is trying to meet the needs of more than a half-million affected Kenyans, including more than 250,000 people who have been driven from their homes. Thousands are escaping ethnic violence and, while they are lucky to leave with their lives, they now have little else.

Squatting on the grass, a mother of eight cried quietly as she explained that she needs food, water, medicine and clothing for her children, including her youngest, who is just two weeks old.

Officials in the town of Molo on the edge of Kenya’s desolate Rift Valley say the victims just keep coming by the hundreds. Especially at night, they are on the move escaping the killing, raping, burning and looting, a consequence of tribal clashes.

Pastor George Keliuki presides over the Baptist church in Molo. Thousands have taken refuge in the church’s back yard. But Keliuki said he has nothing more than beans and blankets to give them for the moment.

We just entrust our lives to God because we have no aid assistance right now unless the international community intervenes, he said.

The victims of the crisis say there are still families trapped in rural areas — dead, dying or too terrified to find a way out. They are caught in the election turmoil that erupted when Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of last week’s election, a result the opposition party disputes.

According to the United Nations, some 250,000 Kenyans are now estimated to have been displaced by rioting and looting that accompanied the result of the December 27 election. The U.N. said that in total, between 400,000 and 500,000 people have been affected by the unrest. Around 300 people are reported to have died.

Kibaki on Saturday appeared to offer a way out of the stalemate with the opposition over the disputed elections, announcing he was ready to form a government of national unity, a government spokesman said.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga said he and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) were ready to negotiate with the president without preconditions. Odinga’s party had earlier insisted Kibaki must resign before talks could take place. E-mail to a friend

Art, Publishing, and Crisis

We picked an interesting year in which to start writing about publishing and art, since as even a casual observer knows by now, the clouds are darkening above both industries. From the daily death march of publishing headlines on Gawker and GalleyCat—layoffs! breakups! breakdowns!—to the recent New York article asking “Who Will Bail Out the Publishers?”, signs of crisis are everywhere, prompting tough, even existential questions about the future of books. Meanwhile, this month’s issue of Prospect magazine warns that the bottom is about to fall out of the contemporary art market in what they call a repeat of the 17th-century Holland tulip craze. Needless to say, both of these crises have potentially severe implications for another of this site’s main subjects: New York City, which is already reeling from its recent financial meltdown (the wellspring of all this trouble, naturally) and which now finds its cherished primacy as an art and literary mecca under threat. And how is the Universe doing these days?


On the whole, not too bad, actually.

It’s time to take a step back—way back. (Abbeville occupies a small and specialized niche, so we don’t have the industry-wide perspective that GalleyCat and Gawker provide; and of course our relationship to the art industry is only tangential. As always on this site, we speak purely as book lovers, art lovers, and would-be opinionators.) The times are indeed grim, and our sympathy for those who are losing their jobs or struggling to sell their creative work—particularly during the holiday season—is heartfelt. Everybody is feeling the pinch and it’s no fun at all. At the same time, we resist hysterical prophecies of doom as instinctively as we do the kind of reckless optimism that inflates bubbles, causes industries to overexpand, and creates these messes in the first place. The cure for both syndromes, sententious as it may sound, is a renewed focus on things of permanent value.

In the case of the contemporary art market, the danger of a crash—which is very real—should have been obvious to anyone paying attention for the past several years. Reputations and prices were absurdly overinflated; financial shell games were played; quality was often disregarded altogether. It’s hard not to shrug and repeat the old saying about a fool and his money, but of course the problem isn’t just cunning auction houses or gullible collectors. Too many artists for too many years have been playing variations on Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’artista, or, if you like, on the pranks of the Dadaists (though these at least were original)—trafficking in grade-school ironies and an utter contempt for their audience…

Meanwhile, of course, there’s Art.


It can’t be mass-produced, it isn’t fashionable, it’s hard to make a killing on because it’s mostly owned by big institutions already, but it does have a way of reducing contemporary, big-business art and all its troubles to a small, far-off noise. And it’s there to study for anyone who would rather try to discover—or create—its equivalent, and profit from it years from now if at all, than make a quick buck on trashy substitutes.

As for our own industry, we would modestly propose that publishers attempt a similar investment in lasting quality instead of chasing down the newest ghostwritten celebrity tome or the latest popular “literary” craze. Some have claimed that it’s necessary to sell loads of chaff in order to be able to carry the wheat at all, but this is an old and fallacious argument (not least because half the time, the chaff doesn’t sell either). In books as on the Internet, “content is king,” and the world will never lack for terrific content languishing in obscurity. Recognizing it is difficult; supporting it is risky; but making a concerted effort to do both offers publishers the best chance for survival in the end. As GalleyCat put it recently:

“Even though independent publishers are themselves not immune to the economic pressures, many are prepared to press on and carve out a unique space for themselves because they don’t want to live in a world where the books they love aren’t available for others to read. They may press on cautiously, and slowly, and they may not gain huge ground most years, but they will persevere, as will their equally passionate counterparts at the larger houses, because they must.”

Bravissimo. Compare to this Oscar Wilde’s lament that ”in the old days books were written by authors and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.” Over a century later, this comic exaggeration threatens to become literal as books compete for attention with innumerable other media outlets. Only a return to books and artworks that their creators and vendors love will ensure an audience that continues to love them, and buy them, as well.