Robert Summers critiques the de-queering of Warhol at the California Museum of Photography:The Vitrine of Symposia at The Getty Villa
To be sure, I wasn't unsure, it was rather disappointing to sit in the auditorium of the CMP, and hear that they now own several of Warhol's (homo-)erotic Polaroids (most likely the ones he used in his "Sex Parts" and/or "Torso" Series of 1976-77. But, these Polaroids were not shown, and I quote Westerbeck, "We didn't put up the erotic images of Warhol's because we didn't want to put off, or turn away, families."Homoerotic images are the furtive exiles of the art world, shifting in and out of view due to the constantly shifting vagaries of hetero-normative culture.
On my recent trip to the villa I went looking for some of the more erotically charged work I remembered. The top image displays works themed around the Greek Symposia, gatherings that involved boys and wine. Depending on the potency of the wine and the mix of the crowd, theve events devolved into either slurred philosophical debates, sex, vomiting, or a combination of the three. Below are three of examples from the case, along with their blurbs.
Attributed to the Oionokles Painter Greek, Athens, about 470 BCE
"With his head tilted back, his mouth open as if singing, and his arms thrown out in dramatic gesturing, the man on this vase shows the effects of a long night of drinking. He appears unaware of his surroundings or even his full bladder. Luckily, a servant-boy is there, anticipating his master's needs."
Water Jar with a Reveler
Attributed to the Eucharides
Painter Greek, Athens, about 480 B.C. Terracotta
"A boy plays the double flutes for a young reveler on this Athenian red-figure kalpis. Several clues--the provision basket hanging on the wall, the wreath on the youth's head, and the boy's red ribbon--indicate that the action takes place at a symposion or aristocratic drinking party. The youth, who is shown as just old enough to grow a downy beard on his cheeks, holds a walking stick and the case for the boy's flute. He approaches the boy with a hand lowered toward his genitals, the standard gesture of young men courting boys. The inscription on the vase also refers to this Athenian cultural practice of men courting boys. A kalos inscription between the figures reads "Eucharides is beautiful." Eucharides would have been one of the handsome adolescents in Athens in the years around 480 B.C., and the Eucharides Painter received his name from his fondness for this boy. A kalpis is a rounded variant form of a hydria or water vessel. Greeks always drank their wine mixed with water, and a vessel like this one would have held the water at a symposion. The decoration on the vessel foretold the pleasures of the evening. "
Wine Cup with a Sexual Encounter
Attributed to the Foundry Painter Greek, Athens, about 470 B.C. Terracotta
"The Greek orator Demosthenes summed up a symposion as "revelry, sex, and drinking." An integral part of Athenian aristocratic society, a symposion was a social gathering at which men ate, drank, played party games, were entertained with music and dance, and had sex with female prostitutes, mistresses, or male youths. This red-figure cup explicitly depicts a sexual encounter between a young man and a woman who is probably a hetaira, or prostitute. Such erotic scenes frequently decorated vases like this drinking cup, designed for use at a symposion and in keeping with the tone of the evening. The symposion was an essential element of Athenian social structure. Athenian men did not marry until they were in their thirties, and the symposion provided an important sexual outlet. Even after marriage, usually an arranged pairing with an extremely sheltered fourteen- or fifteen-year-old girl, a man probably spent little to no time with his wife. Marriage was designed to produce legitimate heirs; the symposion with its music, games, and hetairai was designed to produce pleasure. "
Rather than sorting the work by theme--as is the current fashion--works were displayed chronologically and divided geographically. The two larger pieces in the center of the case above--a wine cooler (second from the left and looks like an upside-down vase) and the wine cup (the flat footed dish showing its underside)--are both worth pointing out what gets turned to the wall. Below is the blurb.The Vitrine of Athletes at The Getty Villa
Wine Cooler with Athletes
Red Figure Psykter attributed to Smikros Greek, Athens, about 510 BCE
"Five Pairs of men are depicted talking, courting, and cleansing on this vessel. The scene probably takes place in a gymnasion, where athletes trained and bathed. On this side, a wreathed figure scrapes himself with a strigil, while his companion unfolds a cloak to dress. The representation of the anatomy from multiple angles show the experimental nature of early red figure vase painting."
"The representation of the anatomy from multiple angles" that get turned to the wall are those that depict the kissing and the groping. To be sure, the case is themed around athletic endeavors, so the locker room buggery may not be precisely on point. Unlike the symposia display, this case is pushed against the wall, thwarting the appreciation of works that were originally made to be seen from all sides. In the symposia examples, sodomy is limited to the hetero kind, and homosexual courting is the ambiguous (by contemporary standards) gesture of a hand towards the genitals.Another Detail
Below is a detail of the wine cup on display, along with its blurb.
"The exterior of this wine cup shows boys and men preparing for the pentathalon, which included javelin and discuss throwing, the long jump, wrestling, and the footrace. Training was accompanied by music, represented by the youth playing the double pipes. The altar evokes the religious context of athletic contexts. Offerings to the gods were thought to aid in an athlete’s success."Wine Cup with Pentathaletes
Attributed to the Carpenter Painter Greek, Athens, 515 – 510 BCE
If one wedges oneself next to the wall, it's barely possible to make out the figures on the other side. In it, a seated youth pulls his older male lover down toward him for a kiss. In both cases, these bits of passive censorship are not about the overtly sexual, but displays of affectionate homo-social behavior. I'm reminded of a more recent artwork involving the simple display of affectionate kissing that garnered its own controversy:Detail of the Red Figure Kylix Above
In my online searching for this post, I came across another piece of pottery owned by The Getty, pictured above. Here another kissing pair can be seen. I didn't run across it on my visit, nor could I find it listed on their web site. Granted, it could be one of the pieces they had to return to Italy.Four pairs of youths in various stages of courtship and embrace
Red-Figure psykter by Smikros 510 BCE
By no means is this kind of self-censorship limited to art. The School Library Journal points out similar situations with teen books:
"Researchers Jeff Whittingham and Wendy Rickman asked media specialists if their collections offered the most popular gay-...themed books published between 1999 and 2005, including...David Levithan’s award-winning Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003). Almost always, the answer came back no.
Interestingly, Levithan says he intentionally wrote Boy Meets Boy as clean as possible so that if the book were ever challenged, the only logical reason would be because it features “happy gay characters in love.” His explanation for the study’s results? Librarians often let “fear, not principle, guide their choices, which is deeply unfair to the teens they serve,” Levithan says."