Barry Reay
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Sexual portraits
Edward Melcarth and homoeroticism in modern American art
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Although one will not find Edward Melcarth (1914–73) in recent histories of male homosexuality and American art, he was not always so spectral. Named in Life magazine in 1950 as one of the best young American artists, he exhibited as a painter, draughtsman, and sculptor and also practised as an illustrator, photographer, and designer. His work survives in the Forbes Collection, the Smithsonian, and in the art archives at the Kinsey Institute. In fact the famous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey consulted Melcarth for his uncompleted project on the role of sex in art. It is rarely that artists – homosexual or heterosexual – explain what it is that they consider erotic or sexual about their art. However, Melcarth collaborated with Kinsey on precisely this project. This chapter, written with the art historian Erin Griffey, draws on these discovered archival traces of the Kinsey–Melcarth association, arguing that Melcarth’s vision of the erotic (and Kinsey’s too) was far broader than the traditional categories of sexuality perpetuated in art histories of homoeroticism in modern America – and that such a revisioning enables a reinterpretation of some of the better known images of homosexual art.

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Sex in the archives

Writing American sexual histories


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