The Young and the Evil: Queer Modernism in New York, 1930-1955, edited by Jarrett Earnest, David Zwirner Books, 2020

Aside from Allan Ellenzweig’s marvellous new biography of George Platt Lynes, my greatest find so far has been THE YOUNG AND THE EVIL, not the notorious novel by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler, but the catalogue of an exhibition curated by Jarret Earnest that set out to map a milieu, to some extent covered in biography, but largely absent from standard accounts of American modernism and which the exhibition labelled as ‘Queer Modernism in New York 1930-1950’. The show illustrates the ‘gravitational forces of emotional, intellectual, artistic and sexual attraction formed by the group’. It was sparked by death.

George Platt Lynes and Monroe Wheeler, photo by George Platt Lynes

An archeology of how some of the materials landed in the exhibition itself speaks a queer history. When Joseph Scott and Vincent Cianni went through the contents of the estate of their deceased friend, Antole Pohorilenko, they discovered a series of boxes marked ‘MW/ GPL PRIVATE’ and ‘INTIMACIES’. Pohorilenko had been the last lover of Monroe Wheeler who had himself inherited from Glenway Westcott. This plus additions from the heirs of Platt Lynes and Lincoln Kirstein form the basis of the exhibition, and what a find it is: erotic reveries of practically every sex act a homosexual can think of, alone and in groups, rendered explicitly but aimed for private consumption, and in a few cases drawn specifically for Kinsey, presumably it took them a while to suss out that Kinsey already knew more than he let on, and from personal experience. The images are by some major twentieth century artists (Cadmus, Jared French, Pavel Tchelitchew) and includes also explicit photographs, famously an early selfie of Platt Lynes giving Monroe Wheeler a blow job). The drawings are characterised by a longing and desire but also a dreaminess, a personal and idealised fantasy of sexual want, direct and unashamed; some romantically rendered; some evoking a roughness, clearly desired; some longing for the particular other; some for the anonymous group. They simultaneously speak an individual, an era, and a personal instance of a structure of feeling: They are marvellous.

George Platt Lynes giving Monroe Wheelr a blow job


Apart from Jarret Earnest’s excellent introductory essay, the book also includes, and interview with Jason Yow, Leonard Kirstein’s long-time lover and heir, an explanatory linking of the novel of THE YOUNG AND EVIL to the exhibition, and a superb essay on the paintings Paul Cadmus and Jared French both did of the HERRIN MASSACRE OF 1922 where striking miners laid a siege to the mine, fired on strike-breakers and ended up brutally massacring some of the scabs, Kenneth E. Silver’s essay situating the paintings not only in the labour struggles of the early 20th century but also of the anti-gay ‘clean-ups’ of New York City in the lead-up to the 1939 World’s Fair, and how the paintings lend themselves easily to readings of murderous homophobia, and the significance of that possible anti-labour reading combined with that murderous homophobia.

A wonderful book that offers information, sparks thought, and stimulates the senses.

The Lion Boy by Pavel Tchetlichew. It was owned by Glenway Westcott for many years and hung over his bed.

Drawings by Cadmus, French, Tchelitchew

One of six gouaches Tchelitchew drew to illustrate the original novel

José Arroyo

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