Critics’ Picks

James Bidgood, Valentine, ca. mid-1960s, digital C-print, 30 x 30."

James Bidgood, Valentine, ca. mid-1960s, digital C-print, 30 x 30."

New York

“Sex Crimes”

247 West 29th Street Ground Floor
August 15–September 28, 2019

“Sex Crimes” draws from a dense archive of mostly pre-Stonewall gay literature and erotica, focusing on the historical illegality of queer sexual relationships. Curators Greg Ellis and Brian Paul Clamp pull from their own collections, opening the show with the sobering poster Joe Orton Inquest Story, 1967, produced by London’s Evening News. Its stark font and severe color scheme (red, white, and black) posit that the titular gay playwright’s murder by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, was the dangerous logical conclusion to living a publicly queer life.

Opposite this piece are two enticing portraits by James Bidgood, featuring the artist’s muses, Bobby Kendall and Tommy Coombs, scantily clad in form-fitting fabrics. The camp value that subverts the “physique” focus of these images is evident in the costumery and set design. Kendall is dressed as the libidinous Greek god in Pan, ca. late 1960s, while Coombs, posing inside an elaborate heart-shaped backdrop, portrays Cupid in the jovial Valentine, ca. mid-1960s. Near this pairing is a set of mimeographs from the 1950s: pornographic stories by unknown authors. They are tales of yearning and self-loathing, wriggling around in the discomfort of unjustly pathologized desire. Taking us further into this angst is Untitled, 1963, a mixed-media collage by Ernesto Edwards that features, among other things, religious icons, ominous architectures, and nude men—a Cold War tableau of cultural rubble.

Other works, like filmmaker Jack Smith’s theatrical flyer for his 1963 soft-core opus Flaming Creatures, are a welcome foil to the tightly ordered cover of the American Psychiatric Association’s 1968 edition of The DSM II, which classified homosexuality as a paraphilia. “Sex Crimes” is a timely reminder that any recent advances made on behalf of American queer rights, especially under the current US regime, are precarious victories.