Exhibitions: HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

Charles Demuth: Dancing Sailors

While painters such as Marsden Hartley turned to abstraction as a way of sublimating their same-sex desires, Charles Demuth divided his artistic work into two distinct strands. As an artist associated with Alfred Stieglitz’s pathbreaking 291 gallery, Demuth produced works of high modernist abstraction, such as his industrial landscapes of Pennsylvania. Paralleling this work, as a gay man he also produced a series of realistic genre scenes of gay life, albeit not intended for wide circulation. In this picture, Demuth observes sailors who are in New York City on shore leave, a favorite subject of the artist. His scene evokes the world of male relationships and gender-bending that arose in the isolated environment of the navy’s ships.