SEASONS PAST IN A CHRISTMAS PRESENT
Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York (Skira, $60. www.mcny.org/exhibition/gay-gotham) captures the terrific multi-media exhibit of the same name on display at the Museum of the City of New York over the holiday season and through February. Written and edited by curator Donald Albrecht along with Stephen Vider, the book follows organized gay culture in the city from its shadowy though artistically influential presence in the early 20th century, to its vivid post-Stonewall efflorescence, to the fury and tragedy of the AIDS era, to the mainstreaming of gay relationships. Including over 350 compelling photographs, artworks, and other artifacts that convey the essential impact of figures from Leonard Bernstein, to Mercedes d’Acosta, to Assoto Saint, to Keith Haring, this is an ideal gift to give the gay teenagers in your lives. It’s a vital history book unlike anything they’re likely to find in their high school syllabi.
WELL-HUNG BY THE CHIMNEY
Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard are to popular art what the Pet Shop Boys are to popular music: A duo of sly, gay, intellectual tricksters who create work that somehow manage to be passionately expressive and coolly self-aware. Since the pair met in 1976, they’ve created painting-photography hybrids that merge the trappings of celebrity culture: Madonna, Mick Jagger, and Kylie Minogue have all been subjects, with elements of religious iconography and images drawn from classic mythology. Pierre et Gilles: 40 (Flammarion, $60. www.facebook.com/pierreetgillespageofficielle) assembles work from each year of the pair’s collaboration, showing both evolution and a core attitudinal consistency. It’s a sexy retrospective that’s got lots going on beneath its candy-colored surfaces.
Nevermind the mincemeat, bring on the beefcake! This holiday season’s chunkiest, hunkiest gift book offering is the slipcased two-volume Bob Mizer. AMG: 1000 Model Directory (Taschen, $99. www.bobmizer.org). In the 1940s and 50s Mizer created the Athletic Model Guild to distribute his overtly homoerotic photographs of thong-, posing strap, and swimsuit-clad men. In 1957 and 1968 he published two small books with tiny, 12-per-page photos of his models. Editor Dian Hanson has now overseen the enlargement and reprinting of many of these photographs, supplementing them with a well-crafted historical essay on the creation and distribution of what, when they were first created, skirted the edge of legality, leading to jail time for Mizer and court cases over the nature of obscenity. Whether in old Hollywood-style black and white or saturated in sunny California color, these images are at once titillating and tethered, the sexuality radiating from behind a thin veneer of stereotypical manliness, whether in the form of cowboy hats, military gear, or gladiator drag. The books are accompanied by an hour-long DVD compilation of 18 short films made by Mizer and his models.
“What if Joan Crawford had beat out Florence Henderson for the role of Carol Brady and went on to beat Bobby, Cindy, and Kitty Carryall? What if she was around today to dish with us about everyone from Monica Lewinsky to Chaz Bono? What if Joan returned from the dead as a gangsta rapper?” One can surely imagine this conversation among your gayest gaggle of friends during a long holiday evening, deep in the wassail. It’s like a queen’s version of fantasy football. Well, now you can stuff your best boyfriends’ stockings with the creative handiwork of pseudonymous self-published prankster L. LeSueur (Lucille Fay LeSueur was Crawford’s given name), whose Mommie Smearest ($16.95, www.mommiesmearest.com) spins all of these notions, and dozens more, into a madcap, rambling afterlife adventure. It ain’t literature by a long shot, but chapters with titles like “Martha Stewart Living: But You Call ME Demanding?”, “Umami Dearest,” “Asshole is the New Appendix,” and “Freak Show at the Mall” read like choice drag monologues stitched into a loose, lively semblance of a novel. And if you feel like lipsyncing along, its even got a promotional theme song: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OlFhBeRD0g
Your guy can’t get enough camp? Trim his tree with Libby Vanderploeg’s festive sketchery and John Davis’ bubbly baubles of prose in the The Essential RuPaul: Her Story, Philosophy & Her Fiercest Queens (Smith Street Books, $14.00. www.smithstreetbooks.com). A slim, hardbound volume perfect for the powder room, its highlight is an illustrated portrait gallery of thirty beloved Drag Race contestants, each accompanied by a pithy mini-bio and quick stats, including their fan-favorite performances (Remember Chad Michaels’ Cher extravaganza? Trixie Mattel’s “Barbie Girl” routine?”). Vanderploeg–not a drag name, by the way–elevates what could have been a slick pop culture throwaway with her highly stylized illustrations, which combine the breezy specificity of fashion sketches with the elegant humor of Fritz Freleng’s old Pink Panther cartoons.