13 December 2010

"hide/seek" on the t.p. verso

There has been a lot of "ink" spilled over the past ten days since the National Portrait Gallery in Washington pulled a video by David Wojnarowicz from the "Hide/Seek" show and reignited the culture wars. Well, we all know, there are constant cultural differences but we had been cruising along, more or less, since the Mapplethorpe exhibition and NEA Four days of the later 1980s.

"Hide/Seek" has been called the first LGBTQ show at a major museum in the U.S. There have certainly been shows at various venues that dealt with homosexuality but "Hide/Seek" is a big show in a mainstream museum. It was attacked by the Catholic press and then various politicians picked it up. I won't recreate the history here but I have been using the del.icio.us tag of "hide/seek" to hold onto the articles that have especially interested me. You can get upwards of a dozen of the articles there, or you can just google it yourself. There's also a "Support Hide/Seek" group on Facebook which has a good bunch of postings from newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.

What interested me once I was looking at the record for the catalog was the seeming "hide/seek" game that was being played in the cataloging. The subject headings in the CIP are: Portraits, American -- Exhibitions; Sex customs in art -- Exhibitions; Sex symbolism -- Exhibitions. You may note there is nothing about same-sex desire in the subject headings and I think the use of the word desire in the subtitle is very important and telling. The subtitle of the catalog, by the way, is "difference and desire in American portraiture." It is sometimes by looking at the art and perhaps knowing something about the biography of the subject or the artist that shifts a portrait from merely representative to a richer understanding. Of course, sometimes your gaydar (gay or straight, you can SEE desire sometimes) just goes berserk.

Holland Cotter talked in a second article in the New York times about how the censorship had actually led him to look at his reaction to the show again and see that the selection of objects had been significantly more nuanced and rich than his initial reaction that it was a bit of same old, same old.

The moral of this story is that there are times when you can do things and there are times when you can't. I've adjusted the OCLC record for the catalog to include two more subject headings: Homosexuality in art -- Exhibitions; Desire in art -- Exhibitions. And I will admit that the second added one is perhaps subjective. You didn't really believe that cataloging could be objective, did you?

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