Long-distance swimmer and respected sports commentator has in more recent years spoken out on issues of glbtq rights.
Indian playwright, screenwriter, dancer, director, and actor Mahesh Dattani is an important figure in South Asian gay culture by virtue of his recurrent depiction of queer characters.
Entertainer Josephine Baker achieved acclaim as the twentieth century's first international black female sex symbol, but kept carefully hidden her many sexual liaisons with women, which continued from adolescence to the end of her life.
American painter Paul Cadmus is best known for the satiric innocence of his frequently censored paintings of burly men in skin-tight clothes, but he also created works that celebrate same-sex domesticity.
San Francisco visual artist Jerome Caja is known for his small, sensuous combinations of found objects, which he painted with nail polish, makeup, and glitter, as well as for his drag performances.
Although sparse in images documenting the gay community, pre-Stonewall gay male photography blurs the boundaries between art, erotica, and social history.
Female impersonation need say nothing about sexual identity, but it has for a long time been almost an institutionalized aspect of gay male culture.
Given the historic stigma around making, circulating, and possessing overtly homoerotic images, the visual arts have been especially important for providing a socially sanctioned arena for depicting the naked male body and suggesting homoerotic desire.
Detail from "Raymond Maxwell" (1986) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures Gallery.
Dureau is best known for his male figure studies and narrative paintings in oil and charcoal and for his black-and-white photographs, which often feature street youths, dwarfs, and amputees. Critic Kenneth Holditch has observed that his best work is laced with paradoxes: "the joyful and painful, the beautiful and ugly, the spiritual and sensual, and most significant of all the real in sharp juxtaposition to that which is vividly imagined."
"Wilbert Hines" (1977) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures.
In his glbtq encyclopedia entry on Dureau, Claude Summers writes that "Dureau's photographs have often been compared with those of Robert Mapplethorpe. But the influence runs not from Mapplethorpe to Dureau but from Dureau to Mapplethorpe. The photographers were friends in the early 1970s. Mapplethorpe was greatly moved by Dureau's photographs, even to the point of restaging many of Dureau's earlier compositions."
Dureau and Mapplethorpe--both white men--have often chosen African-American subjects for their art. Mapplethorpe's Black Book (1986) is better known than Dureau's work, but it is also quite different. The book comprises a series of brilliantly composed photographs of black men as seen through the lustful eyes of a white gay photographer. The book's images present black men as deliciously alluring objects of the homosexual male gaze and little else. African-American artist Glenn Ligon effectively characterized Mapplethorpe's work as racist in his own piece Notes on the Margin of the Black Book (1991-1993), which juxtaposes Mapplethorpe's images with comments by accomplished African-American leaders and intellectuals. Ligon's piece has the effect of turning Mapplethorpe's one-dimensional sex objects into complex, interesting people.
"Raymond Maxwell" (1986) by George Dureau. Courtesy Higher Pictures.
George Dureau's work is not susceptible to the same criticism. As Claude Summers has observed, Dureau's work is distinct from Mapplethorpe's chiefly because it is characterized by an empathy and kindness absent from Mapplethorpe's photographs. It is that empathy and Dureau's interest in depicting and finding beauty in amputees, dwarfs, fat men, and others who are not usually considered beautiful that makes his work such an important contribution to the gay male tradition in photography.
Visit the Higher Pictures website for more information about the exhibition's hours and location in New York City.