Among the photographs, which explore the inner lives of three gay men over a period of almost 30 years, is an image of Hujar’s friend Paul Thek on a beach, taken in 1965. It is uncannily similar to a work that appears in “Hide/Seek,” a 1979 painting by Andrew Wyeth called “The Clearing,” which depicts a young male friend of the artist. Both subjects command the center of the image, standing alone out of doors with their hands on their hips. Both are in the bloom of youth, have long, flowing hair and face the viewer with an open countenance. But Wyeth, who was heterosexual, depicts his subject naked while Hujar, who was gay, depicts Thek fully clothed.
Katz says he chose the Wyeth painting in part because he wanted to challenge the very distinction of “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender,” emphasizing an idea of a queerness that transcends simple identification as gay or lesbian. Seeing the Wyeth and Hujar images in the same city, at the same time, in the context of the queer understanding which governed “Hide/Seek,” makes Wyeth’s words (quoted in the catalogue) all the more poignant: He needed to love his models, he said, “I don’t mean a sexual love, I mean real love. . . . I have to become enamored, smitten.”
(Copyright Trustees of Princeton University) - Minor White (American, 1908-1976), ‘Tom Murphy (San Francisco),’ 1948. Gelatin silver print.
(Courtesy Brooklyn Museum) - ‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture’ installation image.
A retreat in the culture war
That may be more threatening to some people than any effort to argue simply for decent or equal treatment of gay and lesbian people. But the hostility generated by the Catholic League, which so affrighted Clough a year ago, now looks like a rear-guard action.
“They had hopes of starting a culture war like they did in 1987,” Katz says. “But it didn’t work out that way. They got repeatedly attacked for being narrow-minded bigots and now they’re just playing to their base.”
Ward says he is happy “Hide/Seek” is going to have two more outings, but that he doesn’t want it to go on forever.
“I don’t want to turn ‘Hide/Seek’ into ‘Cats,’ where we’re doing a road-show production,” he says. It’s time, he argues, for other institutions to do original work on the themes “Hide/Seek” limned in broad strokes.
“My hope is that ‘Hide/Seek’ will have a really great year then, go ye forth and multiply,” Ward says.
Difference and Desire in American Portraiture on view at the Brooklyn Museum through Feb. 12, 2012. 200 Eastern Pkwy., New York. 718-638-5000.