Main | Monday, January 23, 2006

Lost In Mistranslation

This weekend I took a couple of pictures of George Segal's sculture Gay Liberation, which is located in the West Village's Sheridan Square, directly across from the Stonewall Inn.

At the time of the sculture's commissioning, no gay or lesbian artist was willing to come forward and accept the assignment, which backers had hoped would be completed in time for the 1979 ten year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The gay artists were afraid of ruining their careers. Heterosexual George Segal was finally chosen, much to the annoyance of gay activists, despite the very public search for a gay sculptor.

A second casting of these sculptures is on the grounds of Stanford University in California, where they have been repeatedly vandalized. New York's casting was originally installed in Madison, Wisconsin and was not moved to its present (and intended) location until 1992.

I happened to be visiting New York City that year and a friend took me by to view the installation. As we stood there looking at the male couple of the two pieces, my friend mistakenly told me that according to the artist, the man on the right was being consoled by his friend after telling him that he had AIDS. This misinformation almost moved me into hysterical tears. It was nearly ten years before I learned that the AIDS metaphor was a myth, ten years spent deliberately avoiding that statue so that I didn't have to see the man's slumped shoulders, the dejection of his hands shoved into his pockets, the tender touch of his younger healthier friend.

Even today, knowing the truth, I see a sadness in both pieces. There a sort of weltschmerz present , as if all parties are just resigned to defeat, with only each other in the world into which fate has so cruelly cast them. It's interesting that a monument to gay liberation would have such a solemn tone, considering the riotous, celebratory nature of gay pride events in general. But it certainly does capture the era. It still hurts me to look at these sculptures, but now it's a different kind of hurt.

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