|Portrait of David Hockney in a Hollywood Spanish Interior (1965), Peter Blake.|
How important is it to offer up queer readings of large public collections in this way? Do we even need to do it given that contemporary audiences for art have surely seen it all, and most don’t much care about the sexuality of an artist or their subject? Well, it’s surprising to me how often large art institutions gloss over gay relationships that are relevant to an artwork’s conception, execution, or provenance, either choosing not to mention them at all, or neutralizing relationships by referring to them as 'intimate friendships' or to lovers and partners as 'companions.' As Arts Editor of Polari Magazine I've also come across the same kind of unease in the commercial sector. It’s not hard to guess at the motivations for this – they’re the same as the motivations in wider society for running scared of discussing sexuality – fears of offending people's religious and/or moral sensibilities or worries particularly around children asking awkward questions. It can dis-comfort people, un-settle them, marginalize the artwork and the artist as a result – but these aren’t necessarily bad things.
|An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877), Frederick, Lord Leighton.|
|Bed (1955), Robert Rauschenberg|
Bed is queer in form, breaking through conventional bounds of representation when, in 1955, Rauschenberg apparently took his own bedding and stretched it across a wooden frame, in place of, and so becoming, a canvas. Bed also explicitly references Rauschenberg’s two lovers, Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns, the first with looped scribbles in pencil drawn on the pillow - a direct reference to Twombly’s drawings - and the second with patches of bright paint on the quilt that mirror the colours of Johns’ famous Target paintings.
|Bed (1955) Robert Rauschenberg (detail)|
|Target with Four Faces (1955), Jasper Johns|
Rauschenberg, Twombly and Johns all hung out in New York with that other A-List Avant-Garde gay couple John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and at times they even collaborated on performances and artwork. This gives me an excuse to include a video here of Rauschenberg talking about creating 'Automobile Tire Print' with Cage in 1953.
|John Cage, Merce Cunningham & Robert Rauschenberg|