Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Queering the Image 8: Gilding the Acrobats by Paul Cadmus

*A Note to Readers-  I must apologize dear readers for my dearth of posts so far in 2011.  Unfortunately, real world events have been demanding much of my time and I have not been motivated to write about anything in particular.  Hopefully, today is the beginning of more frequent posts. XOXO Kelly

Cadmus_Paul-Gilding_the_Acrobats_normalPaul Cadmus, Gilding the Acrobats, 1935, tempera and oil on masonite,  36.75”x18.5”, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Painted in 1935, Paul Cadmus’ Gilding the Acrobats is on one level a self-reflexive metaphor for the act of painting itself; Cadmus figuratively touches (paints) the splendid male bodies that he has put on display for the viewer as those bodies paint one another within the bounds of the picture’s frame.  In this way, the image is on another level an  expression of the homoerotic desire of the painter and the potential spectator who might gain pleasure in looking at these bodies in a  private, “behind the scenes, before the show” intimate scene.  The narrative of gilding sublimates and displaces the sexual nature of the scene of men touching themselves (masturbating) and touching each other behind the curtain.  The painting is a self-referential spectacle of looking, touching and desire.

And what of the (black) servant who is the visual link between the standing foreground performer and the one who sits behind him.  He is the only one clothed in the scene and he performs his duty with great concentration and focus.  Is he part of the sexual (sublimated) narrative and desire of the scene?  Is he a stand-in for the painter and/or the viewer?  Or is he ignored by the narrative and the discourse of painting because of his race, as the (black) maid in Manet’s Olympia has often been, merely seen as a racist cipher of unchecked, uncultured desire?