Learning from Black Male
BY LINDA NOCHLIN
“The ‘Black Male’ show at the Whitney Museum is one of the liveliest and most visually
engaging exhibitions to have appeared in New York this season…
“My first look at the ‘Black Male’ exhibition took place on the eve of my departure for Paris to see the great Poussin exhibition at Grand Palais. From Paris I went on to South Africa, where, amid the unfolding of a new multicultural world, I gave a lecture on Mary Cassatt. Seeing Poussin with the ‘Black Male’ show still on my mind made me look at this brilliant, classical but quirky artist differently….
“But the shifts in my perception of Poussin weren’t limited to matters of skin color. The ‘Black Male’ show also emphasizes the role of gender – the ambiguous status of maleness itself – and it made me realize the remarkable extent to which Poussin’s work involves gender issues. Mapplethorpe’s startlingly estheticized photographs of black male models, as well as Lyle Ashton Harris’s witty nude and seminude self-portraits, deliberate in their anti-estheticism stayed with me, as did Dawn DeDeaux’s gold-leafed Rambo which shed new light on paintings like Poussin’s Narcissus, in which the title character offers up his lovely, doomed body to the spectator like a gift on the surface of the picture plane…”