Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Queering the Image 9: Venus and Adonis by Paul Cadmus and Marriage Equality

Venus%20and%20Adonis%201acPaul Cadmus, Venus and Adonis, 1936, tempera and oil on linen on pressed wood panel, 28 5/8” x 32 1/2”, Forbes Magazine Collection.

Painted in 1936 by Paul Cadmus, Venus and Adonis is a humorous, sexual and perhaps misogynistic mediation on marriage and heterosexuality through the modern retelling of a Greek myth.  The origin of the characters is suggested by the decidedly classical landscape in which they are portrayed.  Within this reminiscent landscape, a shirtless Adonis is as expected tall, handsome, muscular and here presented as a contemporary tennis player proudly holding and displaying his racket and 2 (tennis) balls.  With a look of disgust, he attempts to escape from his beloved Venus, here no modern goddess, but a figure out of Rubens who clings with desperation to Adonis.  Heightening his disdain is the presence of (their?) screaming child, Cupid, located to the right of his mother.  Adonis wishes to leave the social convention of wife/mother/child in order to join the other male tennis player in the left background for a match and use his racket and 2 balls.  If the sexual nature of the 2 tennis players is not explicit enough Cadmus has inserted a black dog in the left foreground who appears to be licking himself.

The posting of Venus and Adonis seems appropriate to me at this particular historical moment in which same-sex marriage has been recently legalized in New York.  I am not against marriage for non-heterosexuals.  If anyone wants to get married they should have the right to do so. 

What does trouble, however, is that the legalization of same-sex  marriage while a civil rights achievement, is also an enactment of conformity for non-heterosexuals to a decidedly heterosexual principle rather than a transformation of that principle and the entire dominant fiction itself.  Symmetry is not always the most desired or most radical result.  As Françoise d’Eaubonne (1920-2005), a French feminist who introduced the term ecofeminism in 1974 states, “You say that our task is to integrate homosexuals into society, while I say it is to disintegrate society through homosexuality.

And what would Mr. Cadmus say about marriage equality if he were still alive?  Does his Adonis have only one tennis partner?  Does he dream of marriage or is it just the same as the scene depicted, but with different players?

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