These Are 3 Fabulous New Books about the Fine Art of Being Gay

Written by | Books, Entertainment

Polaroids of Sexy Gay Men

See queer photographer Tom Bianchi’s intimate inspirations, meet an art lover who helped shape iconic institutions, and experience art after the Stonewall Uprising.

Tom Bianchi: 63 E 9th Street

By Tom Bianchi; Damiani; $55
Famed photographer Tom Bianchi is giving lovers of the male form a splendid gift. In Tom Bianchi: 63 E 9th Street, the artist shares some 250 images. They mostly reproduce Polaroids he took in his apartment from 1975 to 1983. But in addition to being a great assortment of photos, this is also a love letter to an idyllic time and place that was largely erased when the gay community was decimated by disease.

According to the artist, “The ‘70s were pre–AIDS days, and we took advantage of the sexual freedom of the time. Legions of gay men in New York ran on full tanks of testosterone. Cruising was anywhere and everywhere. The gyms and clubs were pumped. We danced shirtless and sported baskets. A walk to the market could lead to a quick trick or an intense affair. I never sought out ‘models.’ But my image was in sync with the Greeks. The thoughts, ‘I want to shoot you / I want to shoot with you,’ were welded.”

Turning the pages, we see a decadent time full of hope and sex, liberation and love. It’s inspiring, even though we know it would followed by the dark days of the early AIDS crisis. Even without the thread of memoir running through the book, Bianchi uses his photos to capture all the carefree exuberance of the men and models who experienced that golden moment — that also came with its own set of challenges. It’s also worth remembering that these images were created just six years after the Stonewall Uprising and the earliest stirrings of the Gay Liberation Movement.

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New Chicago Athletic Club by Antonio Berni

“New Chicago Athletic Club” by Antonio Berni from “Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern” courtesy MoMA © 2018 Fundación Antonio Berni and Luis Emilio De Rosa, Argentina

Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern

By Lincoln Kirstein et al; Distributed Art Publishers; $55
The early 20th Century saw new expression across all genres. It remains there to be seen on canvases and in sculptures, but also blossomed in the world of dance and other performing arts.

Lincoln Kirstein (1907–1996) was a founder of the New York City Ballet, along with the great George Balanchine. Kirstein parlayed his concurrent love of visual art and dance into a petition to the president of the Museum of Modern Art in September of 1937. He was fairly certain his proposal — to create a Department of Theatrical Arts and Techniques at the Museum ­ would not be welcomed by the dedicated modernists helming the board at that time. “I am practically sure that the works I would like to present would either irritate or downright antagonize a number of influential people in the Museum,” he wrote. Dance, after all, is figurative art, and abstraction, the breaking free from the figurative, was all the rage.

Despite any latent antagonism toward his ideas, Kirstein was welcomed by the museum and went on to became an important arbiter of taste — particularly during the years before and after the first World War. This turned out to be very good luck for queer art lovers. Although he married the sister of artist Paul Cadmus in 1941 and would not talk about his sexuality publicly until the 1980s, Kirstein’s bisexuality was an open secret in the art world.

Fittingly, he championed the work of the Depression Era photographer Walker Evans (now largely acknowledged as a queer artist). Plus, Kirstein kept close friendships with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Cecil Beaton, W. H. Auden and many other decidedly queer luminaries of the day.

Art After Midnight by Tseng Kwong Chi

“Art After Midnight” by Tseng Kwong Chi, 1985 from “Art After Stonewall” courtesy Rizzoli Electa

Art After Stonewall, 1969 – 1989

By Jonathan Weinberg et al; Rizzoli Electa; $60.00
Much has changed regarding LGBT issues since june of 1969, when the Stonewall Uprising took place in Greenwich Village. Pride Celebrations in 2019 will mark this 50th anniversary on a global scale.

Art After Stonewall cover

“Art After Stonewall” cover courtesy Rizzoli Electa

The early Gay Liberation Movement eventually led to changes in how gay lives are regarded – both socially and professionally. That in turn allowed more visibility for gay artists to come forward, celebrate queer culture and bring awareness to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

Art After Stonewall comes amidst a wave of interest in appreciating artists embraced by the queer community. Mapplethorpe, starring Matthew Smith recently brought the life of the famed gay photographer to theaters. And a show celebrating Jean-Michel Basquiat was recently mounted at The Brant Foundation in New York. Likewise, Art After Stonewall catalogues a show that took place at the Columbus Museum of Art celebrating the first 20 years of emerging freedoms and challenges faced by the then-newly visible queer community.

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Author Jonathon Weinberg is a noted art historian who teaches at the Yale School of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design. A recipient of multiple fellowships from leading artistic institutions from around the country, he chronicles the era with work from artists such as Nan Goldin, Harmony Hammond, Lyle Ashton Harris, Greer Lankton, Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, the aforementioned Mapplethorpe and (naturally) Andy Warhol. The book also looks at such luminaries as Diane Arbus, Adrian Piper, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Barkley Hendricks in exploring their engagement with queer subcultures and activism.

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Last modified: July 8, 2019