A scruffy, blonde boy purses his lips with languor. The painting could be from 2019 (body hair is so in these days) but Pavel Tchelitchew’s “The Lion Boy” in fact dates to the late 1930s. The work is emblematic of New York’s vibrant underground gay artistic culture of that time.
Jarrett Earnest curated The Young and the Evil at David Zwirner to cast a light on lesser-known gay artists circulating through New York in the early 20th century. Walking through, I hardly recognized any of the artists’ names from my college courses, an unfamiliarity that may well be the consequence of the dark shadow that homophobia still casts on art history.
These artists latched onto figurative styles to revel in unabashed homoeroticism. That choice goes against the grain of modern art’s so-called progress towards abstraction in the early 20th century. (Let Clement Greenberg roll in his grave.) These works were radical for celebrating “the love that dare not speak its name.” That term, coined by Lord Alfred Douglas and floridly expounded upon by Oscar Wilde at his notorious trial, sums up the attitude at the time that queerness didn’t exist. Against this backdrop, a figurative piece of two women embracing was daring.
Some of this work might appear cheesy by today’s standards. For example, Paul Cadmus’s “Stone Blossom: A Conversation Piece” feels like a stilted homoerotic take on Édouard Manet’s “The Luncheon on the Grass” (1863). That said, it was a bold gesture for its time — Cadmus wasn’t exactly getting rich for it.
Thankfully, there are some freakier, surreal works, like Jared French’s “Murder” (1942). An idealized male nude with bloody hands stands over a screaming male nude. The work is intentionally cryptic but the message isn’t lost on anyone. French has often been left out of art history despite the high quality of his work, likely because he was too homoerotic for the men writing and curating.
The Young and the Evil is a museum-quality exhibition of renegade artists who claimed the radical beauty of their queer love. Typically, we can only study these courageous works as tiny pictures in books (if that), so I urge you to seize this rare opportunity while you can.
The Young and the Evil, curated by Jarrett Earnest, continues at David Zwiner (533 West 19th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through April 13.
The Tweet comparing an ominous screen capture from the Tucker Carlson Show to one of Holzer’s Truisms is being sold as an NFT to benefit crucial organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Pérez was sentenced to nine years.
Shows at the Hudson Valley’s Hessel Museum of Art feature artists Dara Birnbaum and Martine Syms, as well as new scholarship on Black melancholia as an artistic and critical practice.
On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to undo 50 years of constitutional rights to abortion, artist Elana Mann’s “protest rattles” feel especially poignant and urgent.
This week, Title IX celebrates 50 years, the trouble with pronouns, a writer’s hilarious response to plagiarism allegations, and much more.
PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs reveals the “career in photography” that occupied the artist in the last three years of his life.
Since antiquity, women’s eyebrows have been sites of intense scrutiny, constantly shifting between trend cycles.
A landmark show of 30 artists at Jeffrey Deitch gallery in New York keeps the category of Asian figuration open-ended.
Contemporary Black-Indigenous women artists Rodslen Brown, Joelle Joyner, Moira Pernambuco, Paige Pettibon, Monica Rickert-Bolter, and Storme Webber are featured in this digital exhibition.
Hall makes no attempt to entice the viewer to begin looking and to look again, letting her methodical craft compel viewers to reflect upon their experience.
In Benglis’s latest works, the forces of gravity that defined her seminal poured latex and polyurethane pieces are traded for luminous bronzes.
A new project by Columbia’s Queer Students of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation explores queer histories that have been suppressed by gentrification and urban development.