Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

That is the name of a new exhibit that is gracing the National Portrait Gallery (a part of the Smithsonian institution in Washington D.C.). Just looking at the name you can tell that it’s going to be something that is going to offend someone (granted in todays America everyone gets offended easily). Thankfully, this exhibit makes it easy for people to get up in arms. If you go to the National Portrait Gallery you’ll be treated to images of an ant-covered Jesus crucifix, male reproductive organs, naked brothers kissing, Ellen DeGeneres clutching her breasts and some fine homoerotic paintings.

The point of the whole thing is to look at the influence of gay and lesbian artists in creating ‘modern American portraiture’.

I have no problem with an art exhibit featuring talent from the gay community. To me it’s the same thing as any other group celebrating their cultural heritage and lifting up their artists. Every group does this regardless of skin color, creed, or class.

But why does this exhibit have to be as graphic as it is? Is there a better way to show how the gay community has influenced the world? Does showing the anatomy in all its rawness do anything to honor a lifestyle?

I am not at all someone who is for censorship regardless if I agree with what is being presented or not. I think everyone should gladly speak their mind and create “art” based on these thoughts. But what exactly is the thought of an ant-covered Jesus suppossed to convey? What is a picture of comedian Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts mean? Is porn in a government building somehow significant?

I’ve come to the conclusion that these “portraits” of being gay in America are simply a way for “artists” to come off as edgy and poignant. All they are really showing, however, is that they are incredibly pretentious. Showcasing shocking images doesn’t make you prolific. In fact, it just makes you look dumb.  Take for instance the 1987 picture taken by Andres Serrano. The photograph, cleverly entitled Piss Christ, shows a crucifix submerged in a glass filled with urine. I guess if you try to find meaning in the photo you can say how the “artist” wished to show something people hold dear enveloped by a persons waste. But is that really what the guy was doing? I don’t think so. He knew that showing a Christian image with something vile would cause outrage and get him publicity. Because the art world is full of like-minded pretentious idiots they ate this picture up.

The gallery is doing the same thing as Serrano did over 20 years ago: Being shocking for the sake of shock. There’s no reasoning behind it. There’s no deeper thought and objective that these pieces reach for. There just things to get people talking and riled up. Seeing a video of someone pleasuring themselves isn’t opening your mind to anything more substantial than what your eyes see. There’s no deeper meaning. There’s no real symbolism. They’re just images that only the art community would find compelling.

But hey, I guess this gallery has proven that anyone can be an artist. I’ll be having my own private showing in front of my full length mirror nightly. Tell all your friends.

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One Response to “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture”

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