Preview the Brooklyn Museum’s Controversial ‘HIDE/SEEK’ Show

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HIDE/SEEK, the stand-out exhibit that provoked controversy when it opened at the National Portrait Gallery in October 2010, has found a new home at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The show, the first major museum exhibition to focus on themes of gender and sexuality in modern American portraiture, presents over 100 works by 67 artists, with almost all of the works from the original exhibit on display.

HIDE/SEEK opens with Thomas Eakins’ 1892 photograph of a geriatric Walt Whitman (whose relationship with Peter Doyle is well known) and closes with several versions of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, the film that ignited the controversy with the Smithsonian Institute due to its depiction of a crucifix covered in ants. Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, Glenn Ligon, Georgia O’Keefe, and Marsden Hartley are some of the artists in this high-caliber exhibition that asserts the significance of the work of gay artists to contemporary art, and presents a new paradigm for understanding the complex and tense relationship between sexuality and portraiture. Click through for a slide show of some of our favorite work on display.

Grant Wood. Arnold Comes of Age, 1930. Photo credit: Rozalia Jovanovic

American painter Grant Wood was best known for his depictions of the rural American Midwest such as his iconic work American Gothic. More recently, however, scholars have reassessed Wood’s art and life in view of his sexual orientation. His image as a homespun regionalist was perhaps an effort to position himself as a rugged alternative to the decadent urban artist to avert questions about his homosexuality.

Romaine Brooks. Self-Portrait, 1923. Photo credit: Rozalia Jovanovic

American artist Romaine Brooks worked mostly in Paris and is best known for her portraits — dominated by a somber gray, white, and black palette — of women in masculine or androgynous dress and titled aristocrats in her social circle within Parisian high society. A well known lesbian, Brooks had affairs with Princess de Polignac and Lord Alfred Douglas, and married her friend John Ellingham Brooks, an unsuccessful pianist who was financially challenged and a homosexual, though it’s unclear whether or not it was a marriage of convenience.

David Hockney. Adhesiveness, 1960. Photo credit: Rozalia Jovanovic

Adhesiveness is one painting in a series created in defense of same sex desire. The title appropriates Walt Whitman’s term for homoerotic love and the image shows two figures embracing each inserting a phallic form into the other. The painting was significant in its explicit depiction of homosexual love and as a declaration of Hockney’s own homosexuality, especially considering that homosexuality was illegal in England until 1967.

J. C. Leyendecker, Men Reading. Photo credit: Rozalia Jovanovic

J.C. Leyendecker was a premier American illustrator of the early 20th century known for his illustrations for books, posters, and advertisements and for developing the “Arrow Collar Man,” the trade character who appeared in ads for shirts and represented style, leisure, and sophistication. Because Leyendecker’s work often depicted men in homosocial settings like clubhouses and tailoring shops, biographers attributed the homoerotic style of his work to a homosexual identity.

Jasper Johns, Souvenir, 1964. Photo credit: Rozalia Jovanovic

American artist Jasper Johns met Robert Rauschenberg in 1954 and they became long-term lovers. Both artists were silent about their relationship throughout Rauschenberg’s lifetime because of social taboos surrounding homosexuality. It is significant that the works of both artists are in the exhibit, and placed within close proximity of each other in the gallery.

Jasper Johns. Ventriloquist, 1983. Photo credit: Rozalia Jovanovic

Left: Christopher Makos. Altered Image: Warhol in Drag, 1981. Right: Deborah Kass. Altered Image I, 1994.

In these photos placed side-by-side in the gallery, Deborah Kass, it appears, presents herself as next-of-kin to Warhol’s camp legacy.

William Burroughs. Allen Ginsberg. Courtesy of Gary S. Davis. [via]

The notes under this snapshot begin, “Myself seen by William Burroughs, Kodak Retina new-bought 2’d hand from Bowery hock-shop, our apartment roof Lower East Side between Avenues B & C, Tompkins Park trees under new antennae.”

Georgia O’Keefe. Ram’s Head, White Hollyhock, 1935. Photo credit: Rozalia Jovanovic

Nan Goldin. Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a taxi, NYC, 1991.© Nan Goldin, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.

David Wojnarowicz. Arthur Rimbaud in New York (Duchamp), 1978-79/2004. Image courtesy of P.P.O.W.

While A Fire in My Belly, is presented in several versions, also on view is a series of photographs by Wojnarowicz of a man in a paper mask posed in various urban settings representing a post Stonewall pre-AIDS landscape of sex, drugs, art, and love.

Left: Wynn Chamberlain. Poets (Clothed), 1964. Right: Wynn Chamberlain. Poets (Naked), 1964. [via]. Collection Earl McGrath, New York. © copyright Elwyn a.k.a. Wynn Chamberlain

These two portraits placed side-by-side depict poets Frank O’hara, Joe Brainard, Frank Lima, and Joe Lesueur, poets whose work was marked more by personal revelation than formal structure.