Berenice Abbott Shoots Jean Cocteau, Kills Gender Norms

THE DAILY PIC: In Cheim & Read's 'Female Gaze II', Berenice Abbott casts a mannish gaze on great girly man Jean Cocteau

Berenice Abbott, Cocteau in Bed with a Mask, Paris(1927). Courtesy Cheim & Read


THE DAILY PIC (#1615): Clever that Berenice Abbot’s 1927 photo of Jean Cocteau should have been included in the show called “Female Gaze II” now at Cheim & Read gallery in New York.

Of course it does reveal a woman gazing at a man, but, by the standards of its own moment, it also introduces all kinds of gender uncertainty. Abbott was a lesbian, and known to be so, which necessarily made her “mannish” for a Jazz Age audience. Cocteau, for his part, was one of the most famous, and most out, of male gays of his era, which inevitably introduced notions of the effeminate. As late as the 1950s, when critics wanted to drop a decorous hint that Andy Warhol’s camp drawings might not be entirely “manly,” they simply invoked Cocteau’s name.

So Abbott gazing at Cocteau as he wilts in bed  involves a tangle of gender assumptions, and rebellions, that we are only beginning to untangle today. (Image courtesy Cheim & Read)

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