Just in time for this weekend’s NYC Pride celebration, which culminates in the annual Pride Parade on Sunday, two gay pop-cultural icons have appeared in the lobby of the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. Goofy images of the comedians Rip Taylor and Paul Lynde — both known for their campy appearances on game and variety shows in the 1960s and ’70s — have been printed on plywood and installed in the company of cartoonish text bubbles. “Oh Mary!,” says Rip, who’s dressed like Uncle Sam and hovers horizontally over one of the elevators; “Jesus had 2 dads,” says Paul, who sits inside a Hollywood Squares–type box built into a tie-dyed American flag. The Americana-meets-gay-pride installation is anchored by a large two-branched rainbow that stretches up towards the ceiling and wraps around the walls. The work, titled “You’re a Grand Old Fag” (a play on the patriotic song “You’re a Grand Old Flag“), was made by artist Jack Early as part of the Wythe’s annual Pride celebration.
“They were always delivering campy one-liners,” Early tells Hyperallergic of his selection of Taylor and Lynde. “I just remember sitting in front of that television set, when I was playing hooky or all summer long in the A/C, and they were just on TV all the time. I don’t know if I really got it, but I liked them. … I think gay camp was over my head.”
Now, gay is a part of his art career, which until recently had dropped off for over a decade following a controversial exhibition with his then-partner Rob Pruitt at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1992. Early has been working a lot lately with rainbows, since his 2009 exhibition at Southfirst gallery. A rainbow was the starting point for his installation at the Wythe, too: Peter Lawrence and Andrew Tarlow, two of three co-owners of the hotel, saw one of these pieces by Early at the Frieze New York art fair and were inspired to commission a version for the hotel for NYC Pride. When the installation finally manifested this year, Early added Taylor and Lynde into the mix because “they were two guys that were doing their thing out loud and proud,” he says. “I just wanted to do a little salute — a quick tip of the hat.”
About a year ago Early also began working at the hotel, manning the door on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. He says the work can be challenging; the neighborhood has changed in recent years, and many new residents and partiers hurl drunken slurs. “But to have where I work celebrate Pride with such enthusiasm — it just blew me away,” he says.
“You’re a Grand Old Fag” will remain on view by the Wythe’s elevators through mid-August, washing the cozy space in campiness and hopefully impressing its distinct blend of American pride onto everyone who passes through.
“It’s gonna be like a Christmas tree,” says Early. “It’s so colorful when it goes up and everybody loves it, and then everybody’s so fucking glad when it comes down.”
Jack Early’s “You’re a Grand Old Fag” is on view in the lobby of the Wythe Hotel (80 Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through August 21.