for art history
by Roberto Friedman
Author Camille Paglia burst upon the academic scene in 1990 with her book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, which shook up contemporary criticism with its cutting critique. She parlayed her fame or notoriety into the position University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of Arts in Philadelphia (from which, full disclosure, Out There's nephew graduated this past spring). Paglia has said that she was astounded that the most-used textbook for college-level art-history survey courses, the H.W. Jansen, dates back generations. So she has produced a new one, Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars (Pantheon), that's due to be released this week.
Paglia is the only art historian we can think of who would include, in her essay on Anthony Van Dyck's portrait of "Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart" (1638), the fact that "the brothers' grandfather the First Duke of Lennox, also named Esme Stuart, was a shrewd political operator rumored to be the gay lover of his cousin the king James I ." Does this make any difference to the portrait's place in art history? Probably not, but it's nice for a gay boy to know.
The book is a whirlwind tour of art history from ancient cultures through the Renaissance, the Rococo, the Romantics, the Impressionists, Picasso, Pollock , Warhol, up to George Lucas (we'll get to that in a moment), presented with little context, or indeed, breathing room. Gay readers will appreciate the author's open eye to gay art history. "Despite homosexuality being both illegal and persecuted," she writes, "there was evidently a thriving gay subculture in Florence, clustered around salons of Neoplatonic philosophy. It was from this sophisticated milieu promoting Greek love that Botticelli , Leonardo da Vinci , and Michelangelo would emerge." As if from a gay clamshell.
Nowhere in Jansen or Gombrich (another standard art-history text) will you ever find the aesthetic observation, "In Greek art and culture, a small penis was valued as a mark of intellect; a large penis was thought comical and animalistic." Paglia also brings her homo-awareness to the modern era: "From the moment he arrived in New York, Warhol had been openly gay, with a whiny, effeminate, 'swish' manner that irritated the macho Abstract Expressionists. Closeted gay artists like Johns and Rauschenberg coldly rebuffed him." This is refreshing candor in a college text.
That said, Paglia's nods towards Performance Art and later trends are sketchy at best. And her concluding essay on Lucas' Revenge of the Sith as being the culmination of the march of fine arts is ludicrous, to be kind. If modern cinema is to be included in this survey (a huge field of study in itself), the discerning professor can point to many finer examples of the medium. Oh well, as the strippers explain in song in Gypsy, in order to have a successful professional career, "You gotta get a gimmick." Paglia has that covered in palettes.
We had another great musical experience last Friday night, attending the San Francisco Symphony concert in which hot young Russian guest conductor Vasily Petrenko offered Part, Respighi, and with soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Bartok 's Piano Concerto No. 3. Concert over, we headed over to the Herbst Theatre for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra 's second annual LGBT reception following their performance of Henry Purcell's tragicomic semi-opera Dioclesian. Music director Nicholas McGegan greeted the crowd, and introduced the many distinguished LGBTs amongst us, including PBO directors, musicians, board members and audience. We sipped vino and munched on cheese provided by the Bob Ross Foundation's largesse.
The Philharmonia Baroque has just released their CD recording of the Brahms Serenade No. 2 in A Major and Serenade No. 1 in D Major, which we have been enjoying listening to. We turn it up and lose ourselves in it. And we marvel at the gay music world we inhabit, historically informed and socially forward-thinking. That's music to our (thirsty) ears.
On Sunday, we were in the house at the ACT Theater for the one-night-only staged reading of 8, the play chronicling the historic trial in the federal constitutional challenge to California's Prop 8. The play was written by Academy Award–winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. The cast included such boldface names as Luke MacFarlane and Patricia Wettig (Brothers & Sisters), Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men), Cal Shakes artistic director Jonathan Moscone, Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez, SFAF CEO Neil Giuliano , LGBT activist Cleve Jones , and Black himself. In the audience: Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker and the plaintiff same-sex couples, heroes all.
Prop us up
In a fortuitous bit of timing, producer Marc Huestis tells us that Skyfall, the new James Bond film that celebrates Bond's 50th anniversary, is being released on Nov. 9, the very day that Lana Wood is arriving in SF. She appears as part of the three-day Forever Natalie Wood program at the Castro Theatre, on Nov. 10, so it seems the stars are aligning. Lana, you might remember, was the star of Diamonds Are Forever, playing Bond girl "Plenty O'Toole." But isn't it Bond who has "plenty o'toole?" We'll never understand high espionage. Value-added tack: "The Hostess" Huestis tells us that the Sean Connery part of Lana's book is extra-juicy!
Looking ahead to the spooky horror season (and we don't mean the election), Premiere Props announced that they will be auctioning over 1,000 costumes and horror-themed props at their HQ in El Segundo, CA, on Oct. 13 & 14. We thought you'd enjoy a partial list of the offerings, which include Michael Myers ' full-size figure with screen-worn Halloween H2O mask, coveralls, and knife; Douglas Quaid's (Arnold Schwarzenegger's) screaming head from Total Recall – oops, vomit break; Jason 's screen-used machete from Friday the 13th Part VII – The New Blood; the alien head prototype from Close Encounters of the Third Kind; screen-used (young) Spock ears from Star Trek 3 – Search for Spock; the original Piranha from Piranha; a selection of Critter puppets from Critters Part 2; Octopus' (Samuel L. Jackson's) muscle costume from The Spirit; Brooke Adams' bust from Invasion of the Body Snatchers; an alien head from Stargate; a Freddy Krueger face mask from Nightmare on Elm Street; and last but not least, a rubber Gremlin head from Gremlins. Quite the cast of ghoulies.