Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde (Yale Publications in the History of Art)

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Press:Yale University Press Yale University Press (September 10, 1995)
Publication Date:1995-9-10
Author Name:Mr. Jonathan Weinberg


Focusing on the art of Charles Demuth, and his friend and fellow member of the Steiglitz Circle, Marsden Hartley, this book aims to show the many ways in which the homosexual culture of the years between the wars informs their work and that of other artists.


Gay & Lesbian,History,Arts & Photography,History & Criticism,Criticism

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Comment List (Total:2)

  •     I was a little disappointed with the author's hamfisted attempts at interpretation here. The book is full of self-congratulatory attempts at radical crtique, and not many of them hit the mark. He raises some interesting points in his discussion of Hartley: is it radical to be a homosexual artist? Does the canon welcome alternatives? Regarding the canon of great art,is it fair to be always on the top or on the bottom? The author's discussion of the ethics of the reacharound are quite provocative. It would have been more gratifying if he had addressed such topics to the lay person and not the ivory tower specialist. -schwiner
  •     Weinberg offers one of the few relevant volumes on these two artists. This reworked dissertation took homosexuality as its central thesis, and thus does not skirt the topics biographers of the artists had previously omitted. This book is not a biography for general audiences, but it does consider biographical information alongside societal and artistic considerations in reviewing Demuth and Hartley. By the end of the volume, a reader comes away feeling on more intimate terms with each man than if reading SOMEHOW A PAST or BEHIND A LAUGHING MASK, or visiting the Demuth Museum in Lancaster.The dissertation origins of the book remain prominent. The connection of Demuth to Hartley in Weinberg's conception is not well explained; the men's lives are described more on parallel tracks, even though they appeared to be involved at least as friends, such as residing in Bermuda one year during a seminal period of Demuth's artistic growth. Hartley seems cast into the role of French Lieutenant's Woman and Demuth is theorized to be more closeted than he was. Artist Paul Cadmus seems somewhat wedged into the thesis.Weinberg uses a tentative, dissertation-defense rhetoric in examining Hartley's attraction to the types of Weimar-era frolics detailed by Auden and Isherwood. The graduate student stance circuitously probes rather than asserts with the authority of a gay man that Demuth was depicting, not suggesting in encoded ways, the gay venues that existed in Paris, NY, and yes even Lancaster (eg military haunts, bathhouses, certain alleys and lavs). The manual posture, the eye contact, the arousal, and the background activity in the "Sailors Urinating" paintings are depictions of sexual activity, sardonically rather than literally named after tearoom parlance. The author's student status seems to have prevented him from classifying the "Turkish Bath" painting as a documentary of sexual activity-- the knowledgeable viewer encountering the scene on opening a door in the bath venue would know any of three responses are available: ignore by moving through the building, watch voyeuristically, or seek permission to participate. Weinberg would later go on to paint these type of documentary landscapes himself in the years after VICE was published. The authority of Weinberg the painter would better inform and strengthen the book.Caveats notwithstanding, SPEAKING FOR VICE remains a valuable invitation for biographers and historians to better, more realistically write about these two artists, particularly the neglected Demuth, who made a strong contribution to his and subsequent eras of painting. The 220 page volume contains numerous color and B&W illustrations, making it a quick read chock full of unexpurgated facts, images, theories, and speculations.

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