Art, Gays and the American Way

From Robert Mapplethorpe to Andy Warhol, USC professor of art history Richard Meyer's Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art (Ideologies of Desire) masterfully documents the collision between gay sensibilities and the long arm of the law.

OC Weekly:Richard Meyer:Why did you call the bookOutlaw Representation?When a work of art is censored, it rarely just vanishes into thin air. More typically, the work is reproduced in the press, remade by the artist, and recirculated by a range of different audiences. I am interested in the “afterlife” of censored works of art, the ways in which they continue to reappear in the wake of their suppression.You end the book by talking about “the risk of unrespectability.” What do you mean by that?Taking the “risk of unrespectability” means accepting the fact that somebody somewhere will always be bothered by homosexuality. Rather than responding to such people by arguing that lesbians and gay men are no less normal, dignified or morally upstanding than anyone else, I am interested in what happens when we insist that we really are different and that our difference opens onto other possibilities for social, sexual and creative life. The artists in Outlaw Representation took the risk of unrespectability not only by portraying homosexuality in their work but also by emphasizing the power of nonconformity.Outlaw Representation by Richard Meyer; Oxford University Press, 2002. Hardcover, 392 pages, $35. The censorship of gay art is something that began long before Jesse Helms denounced Mapplethorpe on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Paul Cadmus, an artist whose painting of sailors on shore leave, The Fleet's In!, was confiscated by the Navy in 1934 and denounced as a “disgraceful orgy.” The painting featured a group of sailors carousing on Riverside Drive along with several women and a single male civilian who embodied period stereotypes of the homosexual (e.g., red tie, dyed blond hair, rouged cheeks). One of the things that interested me about the censorship of The Fleet's In! was that even as military officials were troubled enough to seize it from a museum under cover of night, they could not fully describe or explain the problem the work presented.Why did you write this book?

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