There is an infinity of different ways in which a kiss can be delivered; and its meaning, both to participants and to onlookers, will vary accordingly. It can express deference, obethence, respect, agreement, reverence, adoration, friendliness, affection, tenderness, love, superiority, inferiority, even insult. There is no such thing as a straightforward kiss.
Alfred Eisenstaedt's V-J Day photograph of a nurse and sailor kissing in New York's Times Square became an overnight sensation when it appeared on the cover of Life magazine in August 1945 (Figure 1). According to first-hand accounts of the celebration, Eisenstaedt's photograph captured the day. As one woman recalled, "every female was grabbed and kissed by men in uniform," while a man who has claimed to be the sailor in Eisenstaedt's photograph thought he "must have kissed a thousand women that day" ("Who is the Kissing Sailor?" 72, 68). In the moments leading up to his famous snapshot, Eisenstaedt remembered there was a sailor "running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, did not make any difference .... Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse" (Eisenstaedt 74). Life photographers in a number of other locations, including Hawaii, Kansas City, Washington, DC, and Miami, captured dozens of similar scenes of returning troops, suggesting that the kiss formed a sort of national currency for victory that day. Looking back on an era which would soon become known for its high marriage rates, a baby boom, and a dramatic growth in home ownership, it is also possible to see this kiss as a catalyst for a whole sequence of events which had been delayed in America for decades by economic depression and war. The photograph's iconic status therefore not only has to do with what it depicts, but with the postwar American Dream which follows the kiss.
Fast forward more than forty years to the late 1980s when the kiss was reinvented as a form of public protest. In 1988, the artist collective Gran Fury appropriated George H. W Bush's famous campaign slogan, "Read my lips: no new taxes," for the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power in a poster with a band of boldface text stating "Read My Lips" across a picture of two uniformed sailors absorbed in a kiss. With this image, Gran Fury not only draws political awareness to a perceived failure by the government to respond to a national healthcare crisis, it cuts to the core of Republican family-values rhetoric by "queering" the (normally heterosexual) kiss. The poster is based on a World War II photograph, although Gran Fury cropped the original image, eliminating the lower half of the photograph in which the partly disrobed sailors exchange a second, genital kiss (Figure 2). The subject matter of the archival photograph, combined with the fact that it was created during the Second World War, make it an inviting comparison with Eisenstaedt's V-J Day photograph. Together, these images pressure the boundaries which differentiate the heterosexual from the homosexual kiss. Commenting on this distinction, Philip Brian Harper suggests that same-sex kissing "potentially functions to reveal a secret, not only about the nature of the relationship between the persons who kiss, but also about the persons themselves. In other words . . . the same-sex kiss speaks to identity in a much more highly charged way than does a kiss between a woman and a man" (qtd. in Meyer 230).
Questions of identity and the relationship between the sailors become more insistent when the same photograph is reimagined by Michael Miksche in Sailors Kissing, an ink painting on paper from the early 1950s (Figure 3). A former bomber pilot who served in the Air Force during the Second World War, Miksche explicitly references this period of service through his photographic source; interestingly, however, he does so only several years after the fact, as a closeted gay man living and working in Cold War America. By examining this painting through the representation of homosexuality in twentieth-century art- with a focus on the image of the sailor - and within the context of gay service in the Second World War, this essay attempts to interpret what it means to depict two sailors kissing in early 1950s American culture.
Picturing Homosexuality in Modern American Art
In a recent book on the history of homosexuality in art, Dominique Fernandez explains that while homosexuality has always existed, it has not always necessarily left a visible trace in art (9). In fact, given the taboo associated with homosexuality in the modern West, artists have had every reason to avoid making references to gay culture in their work. Consequently, the art historian Jonathan Weinberg asserts, there is no such thing as an iconography of homosexuality in art (41). Rather, identifying a queer presence in art demands the detection of certain subtleties, which often only appear in an indirect reference or exaggerated detail. To "read queerly" in modern American art thus means learning how to read between the lines, "between that which has been depicted within the frame and that which has been excluded from it," as the art historian Richard Meyer explains (93). Put another way, homosexuality can be found in the gaps of what "could not be seen, which was not clear, and which was not disclosable" and exists as a "trace of some historical real - or some event, act, or identity" (Butt 7).
In recent years, several works of modern American art have been analyzed along these lines. An early example is Marsden Hartley's Portrait of a German Officer (1914), which the artist painted as a part of a war series while living in Berlin during World War I (Figure 4). Although the painting today is recognized as an homage to Hartley's fallen German lover, Karl van Freyberg, it was then discussed by critics in terms of its stylistic influences- the flattened, overlapping compositions which are characteristic of Cubist collage as well as its bold palette and abstract forms similar to German Expressionism. Hartley himself promoted such formalist interpretations by insisting that the series was composed of forms "which I have observed casually from day to day. There is no symbolism whatsoever in them . . . They are merely consultations of the eye" (qtd. in Weinberg 156-57). Also, by assigning the painting a general title, as if this could be any German officer, Hartley effectively "masked" his subject. Indeed, with the possible exception of one critic, the painting's homosexual theme went unnoticed at the time (Weinberg 157).
Although the subject matter in Sailors Kissing is much more sexually explicit, Miksche's approach is similar to Hartley's in its emphasis on flattened, collage-like forms. Especially when Miksche's painting is compared with its photographic source, it is easy to see how the artist abstracted his subject, eliminating details such as the markings on a watch face and the excess of clothing that surrounds the sailors's genitals. The artist also modified his original World War II image by exchanging the tonal range which characterizes the black-and-white photograph for a monochromatic palette that results in a striking silhouetted form.
The starkness of Miksche's aesthetic belies the complexity of his chosen subject, for the sailor in modern American culture represents a rich and multivalent theme. On the one hand, the sailor appears in popular culture as a brawny workingclass hero- as embodied by the famous cartoon figure Popeye- and enjoys the freedom of life at sea. As the poet W. H. Auden once observed, "the sailor on shore is symbolically the innocent god from the sea who is not bound by the law of the land and can therefore do anything without guilt" (qtd. in Sokolowski 9). His extended journeys make him starved for sexual attention but also illprepared to sustain a long-term relationship, as suggested by Norman Rockwell's Tattoo Artist from the cover of the March 4, 1944, Saturday Evening Post (Figure 5). Among the list of names displayed on the sailor's upper left arm, Ming Fu and Sing Lee probably represent women he met through his service in the Pacific, while Betty perhaps refers to the hometown sweetheart he plans to return to at the end of the war. Whatever the case, this roster of women's names attests to the sailor's sexual adventures and leaves the viewer to doubt that this newest name will be his last.
On the other hand, the sailor is also a homoerotic figure, sexualized by tight-fitting trousers, which emphasize his buttocks and groin. As Thomas Sokolowski has observed, the sailor's uniform originates in late nineteenth-century women's fashion and is unique among military clothing on account of its ambiguous gender coding (12-13). The ambiguity helps to explain why the sailor, as Micha Ramakers has pointed out, is the most common type of military figure in preWorld War II gay porn (158-59). For instance, the American painter Charles Demuth, who is perhaps best known for his Precisionist landscapes, simultaneously produced a series of homoerotic watercolors for a small circle of gay patrons and friends- including Two Sailors Urinating (1930)- in which the sailor is a prominent figure (Figure 6).
Despite the dissimilarities between these two versions of the sailor, they come together surprisingly well. For instance, inasmuch as Rockwell's Tattoo Artist embodies the image of the sailor as a hyper-masculine figure, there are aspects of the painting which complicate this interpretation. Notice, for instance, how Rockwell has arranged the two male figures so that the tattoo artist's left arm, while concealed, would logically have to be resting on the sailor's lap- perhaps this helps explain the sailor's uncomfortable sidelong glance. What's more, the tattoo artist's legs are openly splayed against the sailor, while his buttocks - foregrounded for the viewer and clothed in fleshcolored pants- are oddly stained with dirty patches. The tattoo artist's anal region, bracketed by a white towel that is spread across his upper thighs, forms a focal point for the painting, offering the kind of exaggerated detail which lends itself to reading the painting "queerly." These contradictory cues make it difficult to assign Rockwell's image of the sailor any one particular meaning; rather, he remains a sexually ambiguous figure.
In queer analyses of visual culture, sexual ambivalence turns out to be a common theme. Gavin Butt's recent book on gay culture in the New York art world during the mid-twentieth century is a good example. It shows how muscle magazines, with their near-naked images of men in provocative athletic poses, circulated freely among gay authences in the 1950s, managing to bypass a postal system then fixated on confiscating obscenities. These magazines were made available for queer readers, Butt explains, "in the only way possible in the 1950s, by an appeal to homosocial forms of attention" (147). That is, they successfully reached gay authences by addressing socially acceptable forms of male-on-male attention by appearing to address male heterosexual viewers interested in sports and athleticism. Similarly, in another study, Susan Bordo explains how the retail industry maximizes its market niche through a "dual marketing approach" in which a single image simultaneously appeals to both male heterosexual and homosexual authences. Analyzing an advertisement for Abercrombie & Fitch, she notes how the image "depicts a locker room full of young, half-clothed football players . . . [Djirty uniforms and smudged faces, wounded players, helmets. What could be more straight? But as iconography depicting a culture of exclusively male bodies, young, gorgeous, and wellhung, what could be more 'gay'?" (183). Indeed, Rockwell's Tattoo Artist shows how an image designed for the most general authence can both invest in a heterosexual economy and at the same time subtly unravel it.
The sailor's ability to cross sexual boundaries and simultaneously appear gay and straight helps account for his appeal as "the ultimate icon of gay male fantasy" (Saslow 238). It also helps explain why he is sometimes a controversial figure. Indeed, soon after Paul Cadmus' painting The Fleeet's In! (1934) appeared on the walls of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the retired Navy Admiral Hugh Rodman demanded that the painting be removed for showing a "disgraceful, sordid, disreputable, drunken brawl [with] enlisted men . . . consorting with a party of streetwalkers and denizens of the red-light district" (Meyer 47) (Figure 7). From Rodman's point of view, the painting reflected poorly on the kind of men who joined the Navy- men he described as "physically, mentally, and morally fit . . . the very best" (Meyer 47). He blamed the artist for suffering from a "depraved imagination" and assumed that Cadmus had "no conception of actual conditions in our service" (Meyer 47). Another critic concurred, pointing out that sailors on shore leave pursued wholesome forms of leisure by reading books or playing cards and pool (Meyer 48). In response, the artist explained, "What I painted was a true picture of a part of Navy life. That's what the shouting is all about. If the picture didn't hit home with the truth, the Navy wouldn't find it so objectionable" (Meyer 48).1
What exactly does Cadmus mean in claiming he painted a "true picture" ? Richard Meyer argues that the problem for viewers like Rodman had less to do with the artist's misrepresentation of sailors than with the painting's unarticulated subtext. According to Meyer, the well-dressed male civilian in the far left portion of the painting- with slicked blonde hair, pursed lips, and a red tiereads as a catalog of visual cues associated with homosexuality at the time. Even without these references, it is hard to miss the exchange taking place between this gentleman and the sailor with a (not-so-subtly phallic) cigarette leaning toward him for a light. Although Rodman's initial response to the painting focused on the interaction between the male and female figures, Meyer shows how Cadmus ultimately treats these heterosexual exchanges as ineffective and futile. That is, from left to right in the painting, the artist depicts a sailor passed out on the wall and a woman who attempts to revive him, another sailor who grabs the waist of a woman who responds by violently pushing him away and two sailors who flirt with a trio of women who pass by with no more than fleeting interest. As Meyer sums up the painting's sexual politics, "heterosexual pairing seems to drive figures apart, while same-sex touching binds them together. It is almost as though the characters had been introduced into a reverse magnetic field where opposites repulse and likes attract" (42-43). As if to amplify this effect, Cadmus "compresses [the] figures into an uncomfortably shallow space while emphasizing the cling of their clothing and the torsion of their postures .... We meet the characters not at eye level but at that of groin and midriff," making sexuality the painting's undeniable focus (Meyer 40). More specifically, Meyer argues that the painting enacts an "undoing" of heterosexual logic- as the rituals of heteronormative mating are literally pulled apart- with same-sex desire becoming the painting's central theme. The artist does this cleverly, Meyer writes, by depicting homosexuality "through a single, stereotypical character," while also allowing the same "dispersed energies [to] press hard on every figure in the visual field" (47). The Fleet's In! thus underscores the notion in the interwar years that the sailor is a doubly coded figure with a complex sexual identity.
Queer Art Mid-Century
Completed roughly twenty years after The Fleet's In!, Michael Miksche's Sailors Kissing was created in an even more censorious climate. As historian Jonathan Katz describes the early 1950s, "never before in American history was homosexuality under such scrutiny and so vigorously suppressed. Leaders of the anti-Communist right such as Joseph McCarthy explicitly aligned homosexuality with Communism, declaring both to be moral failures capable of seducing and enervating the body politic" (194). In this environment, gay artists learned to "play their game straight" by concealing any sort of reference to homosexuality (Silver 193). Jasper Johns' Target with Plaster Casts (1955) provides a telling example of what could happen if an artist crossed this sensitive boundary (Figure 8). Among the dozens of targets represented in Johns' early work, Target with Plaster Casts is one of the few to combine the target motif with a series of cast body partsincluding portions of a face, a hand, a breast, an ear, a penis with testicles, and a heel. Each fragment resides in a small colored compartment fitted with a hinged wooden door. Although the fragmented body is a familiar theme in modern art, it is one which "is usually reserved for women," Kenneth Silver observes (188).2 Johns not only violates this convention by referencing the male body in his work, he displays the male body's most private, eroticized region (in the third compartment from the right). By 1950s standards, this was an especially bold move. On the heels of recent trials involving D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, and John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, obscenity in art was a focus of public debate (Butt 142). More than that, Gavin Butt writes, "the law around obscene representation, and specifically obscene male body parts, were particularly vivid" because of the controversy surrounding Alan Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, which was noted for its use of "largely vernacular terms, particularly genital references such as balls, ass and cock [emphasis supplied]" (142-43).
Ginsberg's 1957 trial could not have been far from the minds of Johns' viewers when Target with Plaster Casts was first exhibited in 1958 at Leo Castelli's gallery in New York. Among the responses, Alfred Barr's is particularly memorable. Then the Director of Collections at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Barr was interested in purchasing the piece, but out of concern that members of the Museum's Board might object, he asked Johns if the painting could be exhibited with the compartment displaying the male genitalia closed. The artist reportedly replied, "It all depends. All of the time or some of the time?" When Barr responded, "Well, to be quite honest, all of the time," Johns refused the sale (qtd. in Orton 49). Although MoMA later acquired the painting through a private donation, it is telling that this detail could prevent the nation's most prestigious modern art museum from purchasing the piece.
In other respects, too, Johns' painting complicates the sexual economy around the male body in modern art. As the art historian Amelia Jones explains
the body of the artist, by definition (until recently) male, has been veiled: both central and hidden, both represented yet, on the surface of things, ignored. Within conventional modernist art history and criticism, based on loosely Kantian models of formalist aesthetic judgment, this male body, with the prerogative assigned to it in patriarchal culture, must be both present and absent. The modernist genius must have a body that is visible as male, and yet this body must be naturalized (made invisible) in order for the rhetoric of transcendentalism to do its work successfully: the artist as divinely inspired is effectively disembodied, and ostensibly desexed, in the art historical or critical text. (62)
Johns' literal introduction of male genitalia makes it impossible to view the piece through a modernist "rhetoric of transcendentalism." Instead, Butt observes, Target with Plaster Casts "has the troubling effect of instilling a potentially homoerotic gaze within the phantasmatic scene of heterosexual interpellation" (147). In other words, it interrupts the conventional viewing experience in modern art by inviting a presumed male heterosexual viewer to participate in a homoerotic gaze. What's more, it does so while displaying body parts which are at once gender neutral (the foot, the hand, the ear, and the heel), gendered female (the breast and nipple), and gendered male (the penis and testicles). Taken together, the cast parts leave the viewer with an illegible hybrid body which Butt describes as "indistinct, its contours impossible to delineate, its materiality impossible to visualize" (153).
At the same time, Target with Plaster Casts also lends itself to a more insistently queer reading. As Jonathan Katz succinctly puts it, "the targeted body is literally closeted" (203). Indeed, tiny-hinged doors above each compartment allow the work to be understood in terms of the closet, one of the central metaphors of gay life in the twentieth century. As queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has shown, the closet operates through a discourse of "privacy and disclosure, public and private, knowledge and ignorance, [and] has shaped many of the ways in which questions of value and epistemology have been conceived in the modern West as a whole" (Abelove et al. 45). The closet also held deep personal significance for Johns. By the time he made Target with Plaster Casts Johns was involved in an intimate relationship with die artist Robert Rauschenberg, one which would last for the next six years and, according to Jonathan Katz, "was probably the most serious and intense relationship of their lives, a relationship which was to have a profound effect on the work of each of them at a critical moment in their development" (189). Although it was widely known that Johns and Rauschenberg enjoyed a close working relationship, Katz observes that few "comprehended what it really meant, and fewer still knew that it transcended simple friendship" (189). For Johns, maintaining a closeted identity in public was a matter of protecting his career. Even while he challenged the conventions of modern art and American culture in Target with Plaster Casts, on the whole Johns "played his game straight" with work that avoids pressuring the limits of the male body in art.
This was not the case with his contemporary, Andy Warhol. Although focused on a career in fashion illustration during the 1950s, Warhol also created a series of homoerotic drawings featuring young men with penises adorned by hearts, flowers, ribbons, and bows. Describing these drawings, Richard Meyer writes, "Warhol presents the male body, and the penis in particular, not as an agent of aggression but as an object of boyish prettiness" and in doing so offers "an alternative economy of visual pleasure in which the male body becomes a site for decoration and witty adornment" rather than a "phallic ideal of penetration or manly action" (121). By comparison, Johns creates a more subdued sexual energy in Target with Plaster Casts by playing the sensuousness of fragmented body parts against the cool geometry of the target. The relatively small scale of Johns' body fragments, depicted in playful, brightly painted colors, also helps to reduce the eroticism otherwise called forth by the subject. As Butt explains, Johns limits himself to a "queer touch" that "works at the limit point of the heterosexist construction of gender difference purveyed within the language of 1 950s painting," yet stops short of creating anything more radically disruptive (71). Warhol, on the other hand, was far less subtle. Commenting on his series of "boys kissing boys with their tongues in each other's mouths," the painter Phillip Pearlstein recalled that his drawings were "totally unacceptable, as far as the subject goes ... it was embarrassing. The men in the gallery were all macho- you know, de Kooning was the big dog . . . some subjects were best to avoid, the more neutral the subject the better" (qtd. in Meyer 96). Because he refused to "neutralize" the sexual content of his imagery, Warhol was considered dangerous company for artists like Johns. Curious as to why Johns (and Rauschenberg) were not more friendly toward him, Warhol asked his agent, Emile de Antonio, for an explanation. As de Antonio put it, "there are others who are more swish- and less talented-and still others who are less swish and just as talented . . . the major painters try to look straight; you play up your swish- it's like armor with you" (qtd. in Silver 193).
When Sailors Kiss
These examples provide some sense of the cultural environment in which Michael Miksche worked. Following his service as an Air Force bomber in the Second World War, the young Miksche came to New York and became a wellknown illustrator in the fashion world. According to a friend, Miksche was so successful, he could "walk down Fifth Avenue, go into Saks, ask if they had any work for him to do, and go out with enough projects for the next month; his designs were extremely popular and much in demand" (Steward 85-86). The artist's first homosexual relationship perhaps dates to this early period in New York or, as another source suggests, it may have taken place during Miksche's service in the Air Force (DeSantis 13; Rosco 143). Whatever the case, like many gay and bisexual men in the postwar period, Miksche responded to the pressures of a heteronormative culture to "normalize" himself, as one source puts it, by choosing to marry and start a family (Steward 90).3 Yet within the home he shared with his wife and daughter, Miksche transformed the attic into a private studio and created hundreds of pornographic drawings (which his family apparently knew nothing about until the artist's suicide in 1964). Using the pseudonym Scott or Steve Masters ("S/M"), Miksche produced illustrations featuring heroic nude and seminude men with all- American good looks. Many of them wear accessories such as cowboy boots or sailor caps which, similar to the sadomasochistic imagery of Miksche's better-known contemporary, Tom of Finland, represent figures of male authority. Like Finland, Miksche's muscular he-men challenged conventional representations depicting gay men as effeminate and physically weak. At the same time, Miksche's figures are also loosely autobiographical- as one of the artist's friends described him, he was "this enormous northwestern, a Czechoslovakian man . . . who was about six foot three" and a muscular "sexual athlete" (Rosco 132).
Considered one of a handful of "stars" in a preStonewall gay graphics underworld, Miksche regularly published his drawings in prominent physique magazines (Waugh 83). Many of his illustrations were eventually purchased by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, whose collection also included Miksche's fashion illustrations, ink portraits, color collages and light drawings- all of which are now part of the Kinsey Institute for Sex, Gender, and Reproduction in Bloomington, Indiana (DeSantis 13). Unfortunately, there is almost no information on particular works within the collection- and even less on the collection as a whole. It seems, however, that Kinsey first met the artist through a circle of friends surrounding the gay writer Glenway Westcott in New York and invited him to Bloomington. There, Miksche appeared in Kinsey's documentary films on sadomasochism as early as 1950. These performances, in combination with other works by Miksche- including this collage featuring Adonis-like sailors engaged in anal intercourse- suggest an artist with a physically aggressive and even violent sensibility (Figure 9).
It is therefore surprising to see the level of emotional intimacy on display in Sailors Kissingits subtle sensuality is unusual, if not unique, in Miksche's oeuvre. Without evidence of the artist's motives, it is hard to speculate on his intentions. However, the painting connects up in interesting ways to the World War II era, both as a link to Miksche's own Air Force service and in its reference to a World War II photograph. Despite the fact that gays were officially banned from serving in the Second World War, the military inadvertently functioned as a major catalyst for mobilizing gay culture, creating what historians have described as a "national coming out." With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the psychological screening tests designed to prevent homosexuals from entering the armed forces were abandoned in an effort to expedite the recruitment process. As a result, historians estimate that as many as 16 million gay men served in the war (qtd. in Bérubé 3). Describing this phenomenon, historian John D'Emilio explains, the war "plucked millions of young men and women, whose sexual identities were just forming, out of their homes, out of towns and small cities, out of the heterosexual environment of the family, and dropped them into sex-segregated situations . . . where heterosexuality was normally imposed" (qtd. in Ibson 163). They arrived with different levels of sexual self-awareness. For some, John D'Emilio and Estelle Freedman write, the war experience "simply made more accessible a way of living and loving they had already chosen," while for others "it gave meaning to little-known desires, introduced them for the first time to men and women with similar feelings, and allowed them to embark upon a new sexual road" (D'Emilio and Freedman 289). In any case, within the military's same-sex environment, it was relatively easy for relationships to develop. As one gay officer remembered
When I first got into the navy- in the recreation hall, for instance- there'd be eye contact, and pretty soon you'd get to know one or two people and keep branching out. AU of a sudden you had a vast network of friends, usually through this eye contact thing, some through outright cruising. They could get away with it in that atmosphere. [Emphasis supplied.]
(qtd. in D'Emilio 26)
"Getting away with it" was entirely possible in an environment where homosexuality was "uneasily tolerated" as long as gay men "made gestures toward masculinity," as one World War II veteran explained (qtd in Bérubé 54). At a time when homosexuals were stereotyped as having certain physical and personality traits, gay men could simply modify their "effeminate" behavior enough "for the other men to like [an enlistee] and to ignore any evidence that he might be queer" (Bérubé 54). It also helped that both gay and straight servicemen were encouraged to develop close ties with other men- new recruits were even assigned a "buddy" with whom many men formed a deep and lasting relationship (Bérubé 38). Photographs from the war years showing servicemen with one another indicate the level of emotional connection men shared (Figure 10). In fact, in a study of male relationships in everyday American photography, John Ibson observes that in the Second World War there was an "unprecedented comfort with the spectacle of two men together- chatting and shaving, touching cigarettes, washing one another's hair, sleeping side by side. Though most pictures were of men in the service, two males finding pleasure in being together were also occasionally shown in civilian clothes during the war years, standing closer and more often touching than had their prewar brothers" (169).
The situation changed dramatically with the end of the war as Cold War attitudes toward homosexuality took shape. The publication of Alfred Kinsey's 1948 study Sexuality in the Human Male fuelled perceptions that homosexuality was a pervasive threat when it reported that half the male population had experienced erotic feelings for other men and more than a third had engaged in at least one postadolescent homosexual encounter leading to orgasm (D'Emilio 35). As homosexuality was increasingly viewed as "an epidemic infecting the nation . . . spread by communists to sap the strength of the next generation," the military responded by intensifying its efforts to both prevent gays from entering the service and by discharging those who had enlisted (D'Emilio 44). Most remarkably, on the heels of his 1953 inauguration, President Eisenhower issued an executive order barring gays from employment in all federal positions (D'Emilio and Freedman 293).
Yet by then the foundations of a gay subculture in America were already in place. Through their military experience, many men and women realized for the first time that homosexuals in America constituted a critical mass. Instead of returning home when the war was over, many chose "to settle in large cities where anonymity permitted gay socializing more easily, and to maintain the friendships of the war years" (D'Emilio 39). Despite a hostile environment nationally, a network of private homes, same-sex bars and cruising sites helped facilitate an underground gay culture. The early 1950s also marked the start of important institutions, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, which challenged anti-gay discrimination and aided gay men and women in the development of social networks, professional services, and support groups- all of which helped to lay the groundwork for more radical changes following the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
The Postwar Kiss
Even if viewed in the context of the World War II "buddy" photograph, Miksche's Sailors Kissing crosses a threshold in what it depicts. Although recreational sex between otherwise heterosexual men was an accepted part of the war experience, such encounters were proscribed by social convention. In interviews with World War II sailors on their sexual practices during war, Steven Zeeland found that straight men kept "their heterosexual identity intact by imposing ritual limitations on their homosexual activity, e.g., reciprocating in only limited ways or not at all, refusing to kiss, and especially by playing only the top role in anal intercourse [emphasis mine]" (11). According to Micha Ramakers, even in postwar gay erotica the image of two men kissing is conspicuously absent (14).
What, then, is to be made of Miksche's subject matter in Sailors Kissing} It is tempting to think of his work as a response to Eisenstaedt's influential V-J Day photograph and even as a deliberate "queering" of the heterosexual romance it depicts. To "queer" something, Donald Hall explains, is to disturb "systems of classification that assert their timelessness and fixity . . . pressing] upon them, torturing their lines of demarcation, pressuring their easy designations" (14). In replacing Eisenstaedt's nurse with another sailor, Miksche's painting challenges the "easy designation" of a familiar icon by offering an alternate point of view- one which looks back to a watershed moment in the history of gay America with personal significance for the artist. Details surrounding Eisenstaedt's photograph lend themselves to such a reading. As the historian George Chauncey explains, Times Square during the interwar years was the "site of an organized and multilayered, and self-conscious [gay] subculture" with many gay men living and working in the area's theaters, restaurants, hotels, and clubs (358). It was also the setting for a famous bar at the Astor Hotel which "had been a gay meeting place since the 1910s, [though] it reached the zenith of its popularity during World War II, when it developed a genuinely national reputation among gay servicemen as a place to meet civilians when passing through New York" (350). The fact that a number of gay male couples met at Times Square in 2005 for the sixtieth-anniversary of V-J Day to re-enact the pose of Eisenstaedt's famous couple-this time with two sailors kissing- further points to the queer possibilities at play in the original Life magazine photograph (Lisotta).
With this in mind, Miksche's painting is perhaps best read as a tribute to same-sex love. In contrast to earlier examples from twentieth-century art in which gay references are ambiguously depicted, or even veiled, Miksche presents two sailors with genitalia not only exposed, but displayed with a "to-be-looked-at" quality. He likewise avoids the formal detachment of Hartley's work from World War I as well as the double entendre which characterizes paintings by Cadmus and Rockwell. In contrast to Johns' literal and metaphoric closet in Target with Plaster Casts, Miksche offers a more direct expression, one which perhaps also draws from his own wartime experience. Although Johns' Target with Plaster Casts has been called "the first portrait of the homosexual man of the postwar period" perhaps Miksche's lesser-known work deserves a similar designation as the period's first unapologetically erotic gay kiss (Silver 68).
I am grateful to the Dickinson College Research & Development Committee for covering the cost of obtaining rights and highresolution digital scans for the works of art reproduced in this essay. At Wabash College, I would like to thank the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts for initial funding for this project, Jim Stephens (Class of 2007) for his research assistance, as well as my Art Department colleagues, Greg Huebner and Doug Calisch, for their ongoing support. Catherine Johnson-Roehr at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction offered invaluable assistance in organizing the exhibition, which prompted this essay and in supporting the research which followed. Special thanks to Walt Chromiak, Barry Kuhle, Victoria Sams, Todd Smith, and Amy Wlodarski for their comments on earlier drafts. I am also grateful for the many valuable insights of authence members at the 1 5th Annual Cultural Studies Conference, "Privacy (and Secrecy)" at Kansas State University.
1. For as much as censorship attempts to limit visibility, it often has just the opposite effect. As Cadmus once noted, his career essentially took off with Admiral Rodman's protest against The Fleet's In! (Meyer 39). The painting continues to be known today partly on account of the controversy. In a further twist of fate, The Fleet's In! is owned by the Navy and it hangs in the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC.
2. See, for instance, Carol Duncan, "Virility and Domination in Early Twentieth-Century Vanguard Painting" in Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany, Eds. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Westview, 1982), 293-314.
3. According to Rosco, after seeing the distress he caused an Italian boy, Gino, when their relationship ended, Miksche stated, "I've decided the only thing for me is to go back to women, get married, make a living, frequent heterosexual society, and avoid all the bars and the rest of it" (166).
4. DeSantis writes that the pressures of freelance work and the demands of Miksche's double life took a toll on the artist's health. He entered a sanitarium in the early 1960s after nearly suffering a nervous breakdown and never completely recovered. Following repeated attempts at suicide, he succeeded in killing himself with an overdose of sleeping pills in 1964.
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Elizabeth Lee is Assistant Professor of Art History at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, where she teaches courses in modern and contemporary art. Her current research is focused on the intersection of health, medicine, and art in late-nineteenth and earlytwentieth-century American culture.…