Culture Watch: ‘Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas’ by Christopher Reed

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‘Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas’ by Christopher Reed

(Oxford University Press; $39.95)


It’s not the first book on the subject, but ‘Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas’ is certainly among the best. Penn State visual studies professor Christopher Reed spent a decade researching the topic in different time periods, ancient to contemporary, and diverse places, New Guinea to New York. He opens with a simple observation -- the arts and homosexuals are today conventionally linked in the popular imagination -- and then asks, ‘Why?’ The book is his answer.

Or, better, many answers. Reed smartly dismisses the usual binaries that dominate related discussions today -- e.g., the ongoing marriage equality debate -- that gay and straight are fundamentally ‘different’ from each other or, conversely, are fundamentally ‘the same.’ Art and sex are both inventive; the relationships between them vary widely, depending on a society’s distinctive context.

Don’t be deterred by the rather hackneyed book-jacket illustration, which shows a detail of a 1981 Jerry Janosco porcelain head of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ wearing a Warhol-style Marilyn Monroe mask. ‘Art and Homosexuality’ is filled with surprising insights. Expect it to become a standard reference.


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-- Christopher Knight