An article at the website for The Advocate (“An Advocate.com exclusive” posted September 25, 2002) demands comment. Written by David Gilmore “Bitterness and the fine art of outing” is sub-headed “An ex-lover’s decision to sanction the display of private love letters from artist Robert Rauschenberg at the gay community center in San Francisco raises vital questions about respecting our relationships and ourselves.”
But as you might have already guessed, it’s really about The Closet and desire of allegedly “out” gays and lesbians to maintain it.
“I recently visited the new Charles M. Holmes gay community center in San Francisco to see an exhibit of artist Robert Rauschenberg’s love letters,”
“The works of art and letters were loaned to the center by Rauschenberg’s former lover Terry Van Brunt. Included in the show was an entire wall covered with notes written in large block pencil letters spilling forth the artist’s love, fears, and insecurities—as well as lots of misspellings and emotional outpourings.”
So it’s not surprising that the OWNER of said letters would want to exhibit them, no?
“As I walked through the gallery, my blood began to boil with embarrassment. I felt red in the face reading them—as if I had just gone into someone’s most private drawer and opened their diary and then passed it around at a party. My friend led me away, as he too felt it was rude to even look at them.”
Clutch the pearls! As if this weren’t something you were fascinated by? After all, you’re writing about it now, aren’t you?
“In case you were not aware, Robert Rauschenberg is still living.”
Ah yes, Miss Death is always the final arbiter in these things, no? No. Robert Rauschenberg’s gayness is a simple matter of fact, known for eons to anyone familiar with his work. And after all it’s not like the gallery was filled with love letters sent to Rauschenberg from Jasper Johns.
“Whether you like his art or not, the mainstream art world considers Rauschenberg to be one of the great abstract-expressionists, changing the track of art in postwar America, along with other Black Mountain College heavy hitters like Jasper Johns, John Cage, and Willem de Kooning. Hence, Rauschenberg has become rich and famous, which seems to send out some unwritten signal into our community: “Must bring him down.” “
Why is a discussion of Rauschenberg’s gayness a means to “bring him down”? Wouldn’t it be of interest to gay and straight alike? Or is our sexuality still something we’re “not supposed to do in front of THEM”? Moreover as words have always been a key part of Rauschenberg’s artworks these letters are of central import.
“This show was curated by overly ambitious art historian Jonathan Katz,”
ie. a well-respected writer deserving of serious consideration.
“a Rauschenberg expert, who seems to have taken it on as his personal mission in life to out Rauschenberg against his will.”
Is Gilmore privvy to some specified demand Rauschenberg has made personally about his sexuality that none of us know about? Pray deliver us the documentation sir!
“I don’t think one’s personal life is art, really, and pondered the ethics of promoting a celebrity’s cute little love notes as such.”
Well so much for half of gay art and literature! Reynaldo Hahn’s heirs should have burned those love letters Proust wrote to him, no?
“No gallery or museum would display such a show this, because the Rauschenberg Foundation would surely blacklist them forever. Sadly, and not surprisingly, this display found a willing host in the gay community center of San Francisco.”
Ah yes — it’s all the fault of those queers from Baghdad by the Bay! Once Dubbya has nuked Saddam he should surely turn his guns on those naughty denizens of The City!
“This show exemplifies the gay community’s darker side: our propensity toward biting each other, unearthing our insecurities, bringing down our leaders, and sensationalizing celebrity relationships.”
No, that would be YOU, dear.
“I cannot ignore the fact that homophobia, internalized or not, installs one too many bugaboos in our already cluttered closets and prompts us to bite when someone jiggles the handle.”
Indicating that Gilmore has suddenly caught a look at himself in his pocket mirror.
“As folks who have all had to reconcile at some point our own queerness, can we not find compassion for those who wish to keep their love under wraps?”
“Does it really validate a relationship to expose one’s love letters? Or does it come across merely as a statement of bitter revenge on the part of a scorned lover?”
Or maybe it’s just an interesting read.
“Clearly, Rauschenberg has his problems. He’s an old man—born in 1925—the product of a generation of secret lives and codified art that is nearly gone. Like Liberace, Rock Hudson, and other celebrities from that generation, Rauschenberg has not found the inspiration or personal safety to come out.”
Oh Bull! An “old man”? He’ s still hot. I’d do him in a New York Minute.
“He didn’t grow up in the more or less gay-friendly environment in which many of us were raised in the latter half of the 20th century.”
Yes he did. What in hell does Gilmore think he was doing in New York for the past five decades? Does he imagine Rauschenberg wasn’t a familiar figure on the gay scene?
“Certainly, he was protecting his career and his relationships as he was achieving notoriety in a time when it was not so fashionable to be an art fag.”
Which brings up a truly interesting issue of “Art Fagdom.” Back in the Day, Rauschenberg and his then-boyfriend Jasper Johns made their living by designing department store windows. So did Andy Warhol. Andy was proud of his window work. Rauschenberg and Johns didn’t want anyone to know about theirs. They also disdained Andy because he was too swish — too much for the “straight-acting/straight-appearing” likes of Rauschenberg and Johns to deal with! This upset Andy greatly, as he admired their work. He went to his grave wishing they “just liked me a little bit.”
“Those of us in succeeding generations ought to be more sensitive to this.”
Yeah, right. Tell it to Norah Vincent!
“On a personal note, I’ve never particularly liked Rauschenberg’s art, nor do I find it endearing that with all his stature and power, he’s remained closeted all these years.”
Well you could have fooled me! (I mean about the second part of the above.)
“Still, I don’t see him as a lesser man for not coming out, and I can’t imagine how anyone justifies making personal career advances by outing people.”
Shouldn’t there be violins behind this? Maybe wind instruments. Call Elmer Bernstein – he’s done such a lovely job on Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven” — which largely concerns a gay world the Gilmores of this world find more comfort in.
“To see Rauschenberg being publicly strung up was not only sad but a show of walloping disrespect for an elder.”
ROTFALMAO!!!!!! How Clarence Thomas of Gilmore. But an exhibit of letters would be a “Low-Tech Lynching,” would it not?
“It leads me to the question: If we really, truly believe that our own relationships—our loves—are valid and worthy, would we still be driven to thrust our closeted lovers into the limelight for the scrutiny of all?”
Or maybe there’s something else involved in all of this. For as those of you (precious few I know) who’ve seen “Vanilla Sky” recall, Tom Cruise’s father — who appears in poster splayed all over New York — is played by Robert Rauschenberg.
And we all know how Tom Cruise feels about gayness, don’t we?
Looks like Andy’s loss is Tom’s gain.