''It's time for the Corcoran to reach out more consciously to LGBT audiences,'' says Bernard Welt, a professor of art and humanities at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. It's an understatement, to say the least.
Welt was actually employed at the Corcoran in 1989, when the institution's art gallery notoriously cancelled a retrospective of provocative gay artist Robert Mapplethorpe due to conservative outrage in Congress.
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Next week, the Corcoran welcomes cultural critic Allen Ellenzweig for a discussion about homoerotism in photography. The basis for the talk is Ellenzweig's book, The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe, which Welt calls ''the landmark study of the male homoerotic photograph,'' one that ''incorporates the contemporary gay sensibility of the male nude.'' The book is now celebrating its 20th year in publication, and was also recently published in paperback.
''What makes a photograph homoerotic,'' according to the New York-based Ellenzweig, ''is either the way [the viewer] responds to the image, or the way the men in the picture are responding to one another. Or maybe the way the photographer was responding to his male subject.'' The basis is human interaction and a degree of intimacy, which does not have to be sexual.
The book grew out of a trade magazine article Ellenzweig wrote on the topic in 1980, after he realized how little historical scholarship had been done. Even to this day, he asserts, ''there's never been a single exhibition that has covered all of this territory, … at least not to my knowledge.'' The National Portrait Gallery's 2010 Hide/Seek exhibit, he notes, wasn't strictly focused on photography, incorporating painting and multimedia.
The Corcoran is also opening the temporary exhibition Shooting Stars, featuring stills and portraits from early Hollywood to Andy Warhol. While not connected to Ellenzweig's talk, and not specifically gay, the exhibition has a strong gay lure. As Welt puts it: ''In the iconography of the presentation of beautiful men, one large category is the movie star.'' '
Allen Ellenzweig appears Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m., and Shooting Stars opens Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. Tickets are $10 to the talk and the exhibition, which runs through April 21. Call 202-639-1700 or visit corcoran.org.