IotD: The Unexpected Collaboration of Alice B. Toklas and Picasso

Needlepoint might not be what most think of when they think of modernist art, but we’ve actually featured it here before. Below are two examples of Alice B. Toklas’s needlepoint, taken from designs by Pablo Picasso.

alice b toklas picasso needlepoint chairsalice b toklas picasso needlepoint chair 1alice b toklas picasso needlepoint chair 2

Juliet Clark from SFMOMA has a really nice write-up that prominently features these two chairs, including a lengthy excerpt from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that relates the series of events that led to their creation.

The two chairs, before Toklas transformed them, can actually be glimpsed in the famous Man Ray portrait of the two women in their shared home at 27, rue de Fleurus (Alice is sitting in one of them):

man ray portrait stein toklas

Yet another reason to (re)consider Toklas as an accomplished artist in her own right.

Provenance:

Alice B. Toklas (from a design by Pablo Picasso)
Two armchairs, fabric and wood
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Man Ray, c. 1922
Gelatin silver print
Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

IotD: George Platt Lynes Needlepoint

George Platt Lynes needlepoint of Jared French design

The design is a copy of his friend Jared French’s painting Elemental Play (1946).

A closer look at the intricate handiwork:

As well as the original version of Elemental Play:

Jared French Elemental PlayPlatt Lynes recreated the overall composition of French’s painting almost exactly, but along with some alteration in the color scheme, there are several fascinating minor divergences as well. Consider, for example, that Platt Lynes added genitals to the male figure on the left—perhaps not surprising considering how closely associated the photographer has become with his erotic art.

In his tripartite biography Intimate Companions David Leddick records that Platt Lynes took up needlepoint during the six year period (1937 – 1943) he lived with Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler in an unconventional ménage à trois arrangement. Leddick also includes a photo of another example of Platt Lynes’s needlepoint, also designed by French (perhaps the subject of a future post.)

A lesser known but nonetheless fascinating expression of the great photographer’s extensive creative oeuvre.

The cushion is currently for sale; price unknown.

Provenance:

George Platt Lynes (from a design by Jared French)
Needlepoint in wool
Source: Kylix Collection

Jared French, c. 1946
Source: The Red List

Works Cited

Leddick, David. Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

IotD: Charles Henri Ford Writes Joseph Cornell from Italy

Over the last few days I’ve spent some time digging into the wonderfully expansive online holdings of the Joseph Cornell Papers maintained by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art website. Cornell sustained a lively correspondence with Ford, Parker Tyler, and a number of individuals pertinent to this site, and as the intricate networks formed by the queer modernists is a topic of particular interest to me, I plan to start featuring these visual traces and mementos that offer small, illuminating glimpses into various social connections.

To start off, this lively (and very legible–not always a given!) postcard from Ford to Cornell sent in 1954. Ford’s humorous indication of his “room” in the Italian town of Frascati certainly is in line with his sly, wicked sense of humor:

Charles Henri Ford postcard of Frascati to Joseph Cornell (front)

Charles Henri Ford postcard of Frascati to Joseph Cornell (back)

Deborah Solomon reports in her biography of Cornell that Ford and Cornell “began corresponding in 1939, after Ford wrote to Cornell to propose that they collaborate on a volume of poems and collages.” Cornell was apparently flattered by the suggestion, but “saw little possibility of an artistic partnership” demurring to Ford in a letter due to his “total lack of interest in psychoanalysis and the current preoccupation with sex.” But even if a full collaborative effort never came to fruition, Cornell’s nonetheless provide Ford a whimsical cover for his poetry collection ABC‘spublished in 1940.

The reference to author Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen) in this note is an interesting one, as Solomon’s records that “when Ford gave [Cornell] a copy of Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales, he inscribed the book: ‘Joseph, these were written for you.'”

Ford’s indispensable published journal Water from a Bucket indicates that he and Tchelitchew (Pavlik)’s time in Frascati stretched into early 1956. I particularly like this uncharacteristically fanciful musing–the sole entry for November of 1954:

I took a terrace walk and saw the most brilliant falling star–I always make the same wish: Love.

A sentiment that seems, quite honestly, much more in line with Cornell’s romantic sensibility than Ford’s bawdier, unsentimental impulses.

 

Provenance:
General Correspondence: Ford, Charles Henri, 1939-1970
Joseph Cornell Papers, 1804-1986
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Works Cited

Ford, Charles Henri. Water from a Bucket: A Diary, 1948-1957. New York City: Turtlepoint, 2001.

Solomon, Deborah. Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.

IotD: Queer Spaces in “A Night-Club Map of Harlem”

In my internet searching I’ve come across this vivid cartoon map of Harlem several times now, but until today I hadn’t really taken the time to look at what is actually depicted. Frank Jacobs gives a terrific and detailed overview of the map here, and explains that it is the work of Elmer Simms Campbell (1906-1971), “the first African-American cartoonist to be published nationally.” In the bottom right corner it is listed as being “engraved and copyrighted in 1932.”

Elmer Simms Campbell Harlem Map 1932

What I was most curious about was whether or not the map gave any indications of a queer presence in the Harlem of the early 1930’s. The historical importance of Harlem to the queer community is well known; as George Chauncey notes in the ever-essential Gay New York, while Greenwich Village “was considered the city’s most infamous gay neighborhood by outsiders” in the 20’s and 30’s, “many gay men themselves regarded Harlem as the most exciting center of gay life” (227). So is this indicated at all in Campbell’s map?

Daniel Crouch Rare Books has a nice high-quality scan of the map which allows for close(r) inspection. As far as my eyes can tell, nothing queer is obviously conveyed, none of the people or places depicted signal queerness of any kind: the patrons are all heterosexually paired, none of the performers or proprietors—except for one major and well-known exception, described below—don clothing or assume gestures that could be considered suspect. A pairing of two men up in the top left corner might be construed as a covert cruising encounter, but the attributed dialogue (“what’s da numbah?”) is revealed in the description at the bottom as a common reference to gambling. In short, Campbell’s representation of Harlem doesn’t seem to offer up any queer secrets.

However, “a handful of clubs catered to lesbians and gay men,” Chauncey writes, “including the Hobby Horse, Tillie’s Kitchen, and the Dishpan, and other well-known clubs, including Small’s Paradise, welcomed their presence” (252). Two of these, Tillie’s Kitchen and Small’s Paradise, are accounted for by Campbell:

 

Which brings us, finally, to the map’s single overtly queer presence, located literally at the center of Campbell’s map: Gladys Bentley at the piano at the Clam House. Bentley is a fascinating pioneering figure I can’t do justice to here (The Root provides a nice appreciation here though), but, to return once again to Chauncey, Bentley is characterized as “the most visible lesbian” in Harlem at that time, “as famous for her tuxedo, top hat, and girlfriends as for her singing” (252). Here’s how Campbell depicts the notorious entertainer—an imposing and androgynous figure at the piano—alongside a now-iconic photo of her:

According to Chauncey, the Clam House “attracted an interracial audience of literati and entertainers, including many gay and lesbians;” Carl Van Vechten based a character on Bentley in one of his novels. She certainly deserves her own post at some point here at Queer Modernisms, but to close I can’t resist quoting one of her famously ad-libbed songs which she generously adorned with “filthy lyrics” and then “encourag[ed] her audience to join in singing.” As Chauncey records it,  Bentley transformed the standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” into “Alice Blue Gown,” an “ode to anal intercourse:”

And he said ‘Dearie, please turn around!’
And he shoved that big thing up my brown.
He tore it. I bored it. Lord, how I adored it.
My sweet little Alice Blue Gown. (252).

My, my: sounds like a gay ol’ time indeed!

Works Cited:

Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic, 1994. Print.

IotD: Christian William Miller, Lover & Muse

Two striking images unearthed in the Beinecke Library‘s Glenway Wescott papers:

Christian William Miller by Glenway Wescott

Christian William Miller and Monroe Wheeler by Glenway Wescott

From Jerry Roscoe’s Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography:

Wheeler and Wescott’s friends included a number of young lovers. One, Christian William Miller, or Bill Miller, had been one of the most strikingly beautiful of George [Platt Lynes]’s models. Miller was a lover of Wheeler’s and a family friend for many years. A later Wheeler intimate, Ralph Pomeroy, remembered, ‘Bill would go to a gallery and all the women and all the men would faint!’ […] Charles Kaiser’s gay history of New York, The Gay Metropolis, states, ‘Bill Miller is also famous among his contemporaries as one of the most gorgeous men in 1940s Manhattan. Paul Cadmus drew him, George Platt Lynes photographed him, and everyone wanted him.’ (121)

The indispensable Font Free Endpaper has a post on Miller with more information, as well what appears to be another image taken at the same time as the second image above.

Perhaps a series on the many artistic iterations of the gorgeous Miller as muse is in order…

Provenance:

Christian William Miller, ca. 1945-60
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Christian William Miller and Monroe Wheeler, ca. 1945-60
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Works Cited:

Rosco, Jerry. Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography. Madison: U of Wisconsin, 2002. Print.

 

IotD: America Through the Eyes of Florine Stettheimer

There seems no better way to mark the Fourth of July weekend than to consider Florine Stettheimer’s Cathedral series, her four large paintings that Linda Nochlin describes as “grand, secular shrines dedicated to the celebration of American life” (107). All four of the paintings, The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Art (1944), are currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

As seen in the photo below, the Met displays the paintings together on a single wall, creating a lively, prismatic-like panorama of New York City life in the first decades of the twentieth century. The close proximity also draws attention, I imagine, to Stettheimer’s wry sense of humor and incredible attention to detail, which at once seems whimsical and precise. Nochlin considers the Cathedrals as being “perhaps the most consistent and ambitious expressions of Stettheimer’s social consciousness,” and the paintings certainly exude an exuberant, celebratory tone. But at the same time, “beneath the glowing admiration for American institutions and personae in this work… exists a pointed and knowing critique of them as well” (107, 113).

While the nature of this critiques isn’t always immediately accessible to a contemporary viewer, Stettheimer embedded within all paintings individuals and incidents that would have been recognizable to the New York artistic and cultural communities, of which she and her mothers and two sisters were considered to be major figures due to the fashionable salons they hosted. Marcel Duchamp in particular was a close friend of both the family and Stettheimer herself, and while I would never go so far to call her own style “surrealistic,” she certainly possesses a sly sense of humor and capturing a sense of absurdity in these paintings and throughout her entire body of work–qualities which I think allow her to capture a glimpse into American society and culture that, many decades after they were painted, continues to resonate with my own perspective of this country.

florine stettheimer cathedrals of broadway

The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of fifth avenue

The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of wall street

The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of art

The Cathedrals of Art (1944)

WORKS CITED

Nochlin, Linda. “Florine Stettheimer: Rococo Subversive.” 1980. Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica. Ed. Elisabeth Sussman and Barbara J. Bloemink. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995.

PROVENANCE

The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Art (1944)
Florine Stettheimer
Oil on Canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Full size images via Art Spheric

Iotd: John Ashbery’s Collage Work

john ashbery collage the painter

“The Painter” (2014) by John Ashbery 

Exactly how I managed to be unaware until today that John Ashbery is an accomplished collage artist is something of a mystery, but now that a blog post over at The Paris Review has alerted me of the situation I’ve spent a pleasurable morning rectifying this situation.

According to the press release put out by New York City’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Ashbery has made collages ever since he was an undergraduate student at Harvard in the 1940’s, and goes on to note that Ashbery’s “approach to poetry and collage is very much the same.” I admittedly have little experience with Ashbery’s prolific body of work, but this observation certainly applies to my memories of reading Flow Chart (1991), which remains my most sustained interaction with Ashbery to date (which reminds me, I really, really must take on Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror one of these days).

This is the fourth exhibition of Ashbery’s collage work, and in 2008 when he exhibited his visual art for the first time at the age of 81, the New York Times ran a nice overview by Holland Cotter of this branch of the poet’s career. Reportedly friend and New York City School associate Joe Brainard encouraged Ashbery’s interest in collage work, and the piece includes a lovely anecdote about Ashbery visiting Brainard in Vermont in the 1970’s, and that “after dinner[they] got in the habit of sitting around and cutting up old magazines and making collages.”

chutes and ladders collage john ashbery

Chutes and Ladders (for Joe Brainard) (2008)

Regarding Ashbery’s collage work in general, Cotter states:

“One thing he obviously values in collage is its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high-artiness, its resistance to monumentality. His own collages have this character. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career that gain interest primarily — some might say entirely — within the context of that life and career.”

I like that a lot, and at this point I’ll just let the images themselves speak for themselves. The Tibor’s current show is a joint exhibition of recent collage work by Ashbery and Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, an honorary queer artist if there ever was one (if you haven’t experienced the surreal pleasures of Sissy Boy Slap Party, do yourself the favor–it’s four minutes well spent). Maddin’s collage work is wonderful too, and well worth checking out. Several more images from the current exhibit, which runs through July 31, 2015:

john ashbery collage bingo beethoven

“Bingo Beethoven” (2014) 

john ashbery collage P.K.

“P.K.” (2015) 

Collage work featured in previous exhibitions at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, via the New York Times:

john ashbery collage acrobats 1972

“Acrobats” (c. 1972)

john ashbery collage Apres un reve 1977

“Apres un Reve” (c. 1977) 

john ashbery collage Mannerist Concern

“Mannerist Concern” (2008) 

IotD: JERRY by Paul Cadmus (for Jared French’s birthday)

Jerry by Paul CadmusA few days late, but I wanted to acknowledge Jared French’s birth date on February 4 by posting a few thoughts on Jerry, Paul Cadmus’s 1931 portrait of French. The painting so immediately conveys that the two artists were lovers–a complex relationship the men maintained even after French’s marriage to Margaret Hoening, a fellow artist which they together artistically collaborated with under the clever acronym PaJaMa –that it is one of the reasons, I imagine, that it was not publicly seen until the 1970’s and only recently transitioned from the French family’s personal collection to permanent display in a public institution (more detailed information via Tyler Green).

Jared French photo by George Platt Lynes

Jared French, August 1938 by George Platt Lynes

The intimacy of the portrait is striking, in terms of not only location (a rumpled, obviously slept-in bed) and proximity (even photographs don’t often dare creep so close to its human subject), but also in terms of its gaze: that of the artist behind the easel, of course, but also the one frankly and uninhibitedly returned by the subject himself. Usually when a subject gazes directly out of the image–be it a painting, photograph, film, or anything else–it is characterized as engaging the viewer and/or audience, but whenever I look at this image I’m struck that the facial expression and eye contact Cadmus captures makes me feel as if I’m not being implicated at all, but merely allowed to witness an intimate exchange that I’m not necessarily being invited to participate in. Somehow the image maintains its secrets and privacy despite its ostensibly exhibitionist display.

It’s also impossible not to be intrigued by the conspicuous presence of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which as John Coulthart notes, was a text banned in America at the time, and would be for several more years (he even wonders if it’s the first painted representation of the novel). But following the project Russell Meyer undertakes in his study of Cadmus’s work in Outlaw Representation: Censorship & Homosexuality in Twentieth Century Art, I am drawn to the idea that Cadmus employs the presence of one obvious illicit element (Ulysses) to signify another (the love “that dare not speak its name”). It’s a delightful visual strategy.

I generally have mixed feelings in regards to much of Cadmus’s work, conceptually appreciating what he is doing but not responding to his intentionally swollen and vulgar aesthetic, but Jerry has become one of my very favorite pieces of art not only of the modernist era, but just in general. It’s a marvelous testament to a relationship, be it erotic, artistic, and/or otherwise.

The 1000 Museums website has an amazing high resolution image of Jerry that allows for the painting to be inspected in closer detail than I’ve ever had the opportunity to do so before (and is probably the next best thing to seeing it in person at the Toledo Museum of Art). In line with Jerry‘s celebration of intimacy, here are a few details from the painting to scrutinize–and savor.

Jerry by Paul Cadmus

Jerry by Paul Cadmus

Jerry by Paul Cadmus

Provenance

Jerry (1931)
Paul Cadmus
Oil on canvas
Toledo Museum of Art

Jared French, August 1938
George Platt Lynes
Gelatin silver print
Metropolitan Museum of Art

IotD: OLIVIA em português

50 Watts recently posted a series of stunning Portuguese  book covers ranging from the 1920’s through 1970’s, and I was delighted to see this starkly gorgeous cover for a 1959 edition of the lesbian classic Olivia, initially attributed to a pseudonym of the same name but is now generally published under the actual name of its author, Dorothy Bussy (née Strachey).

The design is by Sebastião Rodrigues, and utilizes a photo by Sena da Silva.

Olivia by Olivia cover 1959In 1951 French film director Jacqueline Audry directed an adaptation of the film, starring Edwige Feuillère and Simone Simon.  I wrote a rather lengthy analysis comparing it and another lesbian film classic, Leontine Sagan’s Mädchen in Uniform (1931) over at my film blog, Memories of the Future.

More book covers, all from the collection of Jorge Silva, can be found at 50 Watts.

IotD: Parker Tyler on Cinematic Sex, Psyche, Etcetera

During the holiday weekend the bf I took a day trip down to Santa Cruz, and having arrived earlier than the friends we were meeting, we of course took the opportunity to scout out the local used bookstore scene. We ended up spending too much money at Logos Bookstore & Records, and one treasure I’m particularly delighted by is a copy of Parker Tyler’s Sex Psyche Etcetera in the Film, whose collage cover I’ve long admired from afar.

I’ve been on the lookout for Tyler-penned titles for years here in San Francisco, with absolutely no luck. So imagine my surprise when soon after the bf spotted a copy of Tyler’s Sex in Films as well! Both books are now safely tucked away on our bookshelves alongside The Granite Butterfly as well as my multiple copies of Screening the Sexes.

tyler sex psyche etcWhat I particularly love about this particular edition is the striking collage adorning the cover, which I now know was designed by Bridget Heal. A quick google search comes up with several other examples of Pelican covers she is credited for, but no substantial information appeared immediately available.

Now excuse me while I go relish in Tyler’s delicious criticism-as-camp style for a bit–shall I start with the chapter fantastically titled “The Horse: Totem Animal of Male Power – An Essay in the Straight-camp Style?”