The Young and the Evil
by David Molesky
Paul Cadmus — Stone Blossom: A conversation Piece, 1939-1940 | oil and tempera on panel, 23.5 x 33.5 in.
During the 2019 Frieze art fair week, the most talked about exhibit (at least in my circles) wasn’t a booth but an exhibition of historical artists at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea, The Young and Evil. Nine months later, Zwirner released the exhibition catalog, packed with new scholarship, edited by the exhibit curator Jarrett Earnest. Besides the rarely exhibited masterworks in egg tempera painted by Paul Cadmus and George Tooker, the stunning catalog gorgeously presents a wide range of other artifacts that give light to how this private creative community maintained traditional image-making during the peak of modernism. This tribe of trailblazing rebel homosexuals made incredibly skilled (and beautiful) paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs as a way to tell their story during a time when being homosexual was both criminalized and pathologized. The aesthetic move towards classical and archaic forms of figuration was not simply reactionary, but the most radical way of delivering their content and message.
The orgiastic excitement of Paul Cadmus, Fidelma Cadmus Kirstein, Charles Henri Ford, Jared French, Margaret Hoening French, George Platt Lynes, Bernard Perlin, Pavel Tchelitchew, George Tooker, Alexander Jensen Yow, and their circle, became a movement which even enveloped their patrons into various triangles as muses and lovers. The writer Glenway Wescott and his lover the former MoMA Director of Exhibitions Monroe Wheeler supported and collected works by these artists. Many of the artifacts included in the exhibition share this provenance and arrive via the estate of Anatole Pohorilenko, who authored a book of travel albums that document the 16-year love triangle between Wescott, Wheeler, and the photographer George Platt Lynes. A collector friend recalls seeing many of the exhibited works when visiting his friend Anatole in NY, such as the jaw-dropping Lion Boy by Pavel Tchelitchew—depicting a nude man who ever-so-slightly begins to resemble a lion. A new discovery for me, Techelitchew had several outstanding works in the show and catalog, including portraits with clusters of neon-colored nerve ganglia visible through a transparent exterior.