January 30th, 2009 | by RICHARD SPEER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Breedlove the Beautiful Boy: WW art critic Richard Speer weighs in.

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The local arts community is throwing considerable support behind Mayor Sam Adams in the wake of revelations about his star-crossed affair with hunk-a-licious Beau Breedlove. A group of arts leaders including PICA's executive director, Victoria Frey, and Regional Arts & Culture Council Executive Director Eloise Damrosch, has circulated an open letter to the public supporting Adams. The letter holds that “an episode in [Adams'] private life, that has become a lightning rod of distraction from the real work at hand, should not be allowed to derail our entire leadership, and our community, from the important work ahead.”

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, local arts website PORT goes on the record in a post called “Sammy Stays.” In the post, curator Jeff Jahn declares: “PORT just doesn't care about sex scandals; we do care about art, design, and aesthetics, and we will evaluate [Adams] on those matters alone.” More feistily, artist TJ Norris writes on his blog, unBLOGGED: “Do I really care whether the partner that [Adams] chose was a teenager or a retiree, for that matter? No. What matters is the job at hand, and what's in the best interest of the people of greater Portland.”

Above and beyond the view that Adams is arts-friendly, artists' support of our beleaguered bürgermeister should come as no surprise. More than any other community, the art world is in touch with the dark fiends that lurk in the unconscious, threatening at any moment to come out and gobble us up. Visual artists, novelists, playwrights, and the like charge themselves with channeling the secret desires that haunt us, and setting those demons loose, where they may effect pathos in the rest of us. Witness Abstract Expressionism, whose spurts, splatters, and oozes ejaculated onto the canvas and into the history books, dredged up from the painter's hand as an act of transfiguration. It is no stretch: Artists are sympathetic to Sam Adams because he, in his transgressions, enacted literally the boiling catharses that artists commit symbolically in their work.

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Artists, too, know the long tradition of the Beautiful Boy, the male Lolita whose siren song has transfixed sculptors and painters for millennia and led many a hapless older man (and more than a few women) astray. With his not-a-boy, not-yet-a-man body, which commingles baby fat and burgeoning musculature, the Beautiful Boy appeared in Ancient Greek pottery and sculptural masterpieces such as the Kritios Boy (circa 480 B.C., see image above). In these works it is difficult to distinguish the pure aesthetic gaze from the prurient one, seeing as how the Ancient World, for all the gifts it bestowed to us, was a hotbed of pederasty (a word famously rhymed with “nasty” in the song “Sodomy” from the musical Hair). Whether Platonic or earthly, jailbait, it would seem, is in the eye thighs of the beholder.

Fast-forward to the Renaissance and Donatello's David, (circa 1440), and you'll see a younger, less ripped David (image below) than Michelangelo's more famous version. Donatello's ephebic charmer could be a prototype for young Master Breedlove emerging from the sea in a widely circulated photograph from his MySpace page.

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A hundred years later the Beautiful Boy reappears in the homolicious Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1545-53) by the scandalous metalsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, himself four times accused of sodomizing young boys and girls, most of them models for his sculptures. In one instance, Cellini was sentenced to four years imprisonment for violations, a sentence eventually lessened when his supporters in the local art scene of his day—the powerful Medici family—intervened on his behalf.

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A final exhibit: Caravaggio's sultry Bacchus (circa 1595), with his bedroom eyes, his wreath of grapes and leaves, fingers unknotting the black cord to his skimpy toga, and most of all that brimming, quivering wine glass extended toward the viewer in invitation to taste the forbidden fermented fruit. The cruelty of it! The dangling carrot-ness of it all! Is it any wonder that Beautiful Boys from Bacchus to Breedlove have brought powerful men from Cellini to Adams to, ahem, their knees?

There is no excuse for it, of course. Men who chase younger men, or women, or both, are chasing their own vanishing youth and ought to know better. There are bound to be problems aplenty when older men sleep with protégés. Young'uns are never discreet; they kiss and tell, and then the people they told tell other people, and finally, when the affair is exposed, the junior party is exonerated by the naïveté of youth, while the older is forever besmirched as “the dirty old man.” These things end badly, plain and simple, as art and literature show us. At the beginning of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, the artist Basil Hallward, enraptured by his subject's jaw-dropping beauty, predicts that, for “Dorian Gray's good looks, we shall all suffer for what the gods have given us—suffer terribly.” And indeed, Hallward does, as does nearly everyone else in the enfant terrible's path. This lesson found a sad parallel in Wilde's own life, when in 1895 he was tried, convicted and sentenced to two years hard labor for engaging in “the love that dare not speak its name” with a randy, indiscreet twink named Lord Alfred Douglas, who was 16 years his junior (Wilde was 37 when the affair commenced, Douglas was 21).

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But nowhere is this much-repeated tale more tragically put than in Thomas Mann's 1912 novel Death in Venice. It is the story of one Gustav von Aschenbach, an intellectual in his fifties, who is struck dumb with love and lust over the winsome adolescent Tadzio. “His face,” Mann writes of the boy, “recalled the noblest moment of Greek sculpture: pale with a sweet reserve, with clustering honey-colored ringlets, the brow and nose descending in one line, the winning mouth, the expression of pure and godlike serenity.” Poor Aschenbach: He's got it bad, and that ain't good. He winds up dead of cholera on the beach, infatuated to the end, his final vision the sight of Tadzio frolicking in the waves, “a remote and isolated figure with floating locks, out there in sea and wind...”

We wish a better fate for Mayor Sam, who must be feeling a bit Aschenbach-like these days. My own opinion, by the way (not that anyone asked for it), is that Adams has suffered enough; that all investigations criminal and journalistic should henceforth cease; and that the mayor, as an act of penance and purification, should be made to don a glitter-spangled crown with the word “CHICKENHAWK” inscribed across it, and wear it as he runs around City Hall three times, singing Noël Coward's “Mad About the Boy” at the top of his lungs. Then and only then, all will be forgiven, and we can all move on to meet our great civic destiny.

Click on links in the text to see images in their original webpages and context.
 
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