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David Leddick has produced a colourful art book of absurdly handsome men. E-readers will never be able to replace this sort of presentation, a beautifully printed book on slick heavy paper. It’s so good looking that, like a new model boyfriend, you’ll want to show it off. He calls the collection Gorgeous Gallery: The Best in Gay Erotic Art but a better title would be Perfect Modern Fantasies: 125+ Nearly Pornographic Pictures from 40 or so Gay Artists.
After a token look at some pre-20th-century art works, Leddick has divided the book into three sections: “Contemporary,” “Avant-Garde,” and “Classic.” At first glance, this is an interesting order to present the works, but after examining the works (and sometimes very, very carefully examining them a number of times over several days) the categories don’t make much difference.
In the first section, “Contemporary,” Leddick presents 17 artists. The first artist in the section is Don Bachardy, Christopher Isherwood’s partner who still lives in Southern California. This starts the book strongly with a series of vivid nude studies of men at rest. Midway through the section, David Hockney’s simple drawings give a little break from the painted nudes. Three intense images of penises by Andy Warhol, who typifies the adrenaline-fuelled New York art world, appear near the end of the section.
Throughout the book, each artist gets a short write-up with varying amounts of information along with their selected images. Each section bounces between East Coast, West Coast, and international artists, which seems confusing until you realize that within each section, the book presents its artists alphabetically rather than based on geography, medium, thematic approach, or chronology. While Bachardy, Hockney, and Warhol are the best known artists in the “Contemporary” section, I also recognized some of the other artists (such as Wes Hempel and Michael Mitchell) from book jacket covers and publications that use their images.
The middle section, “Avant-Garde,” presents a set of artists whose names I didn’t recognize, but offers some of the strongest images in the book. My newly discovered favorites include Felix d’Eon, who presents very witty dirty cartoons, and James Huctwith, who has an exceptional way with serious portraits and groups of men in dark poses. I also laughed at Christopher Schulz’s nude imaginings of the fleshy actor “Seth Rogan.”
But calling this section “Avante-Garde” seems misleading. Other than a bit of post-modern joking, the images seem like straightforward nudes. This would have been the section for Robert Mapplethorpe, Tom of Finland, any of the manga artists (such as Gengoroh Tagame), or one of the serious fetish artists, but they’re missing from this collection, as is any significant photography.
The last section, “Classics,” presents the final artists, who are generally older or who created some of the earliest works in the collection. This section owes a special debt of gratitude to the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, which provided many of these timeless reproductions. The most famous artist in this section is the master Paul Cadmus. While many of the other images seem impressionistic or rough, Cadmus’ young men are clearly recognizable as 20th-century icons.
Interestingly, the “Classics” section shows the largest number full erections (on single men and on couples), the biggest dicks, the largest number of men having explicit sex, and both depictions of auto-fellatio in the book, but also bares the fewest butts. I’m pretty sure that gay men weren’t more randy years ago, but were artists more uninhibited without the fear of their work being confused as pornography?
One the one hand, I would have liked better biographies of the largely unknown artists, along with a mention of the artistic medium and the original size of the work, but this isn’t a book for art historians or researchers. This is a book that you’ll enjoy perusing at leisure. David Leddick has a sweet job, deciding which images to include in Gorgeous Gallery, and he’s done a great service in putting together a collection that’s rich in visual content but light on analysis, which is just perfect for discovery, something you look forward to doing with a new friend.
By David Leddick
Bruno Gmünder Verlag GmbH
Hardcover, 9783867872485, 160 pp.