From Gulag to Gallery

4.29.2008

By Nicholas Weist

In 1962 the police department of Mansfield, Ohio, set up a camera behind a two-way mirror in a local public restroom. The footage they took -- lingering glances at men having sex with other men -- later became evidence in a slew of sodomy trials.

Some 45 years later, artist William E. Jones reedited it into a film called Tearoom, currently on view at the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. 'For a short while,' Jones says, 'in that insalubrious place, these men had a freedom. But they paid dearly for their pleasures.'

The dreamlike film shows men of various physical types and races -- an unusual grouping in the Midwest just eight years after desegregation -- meeting for liaisons in the tight confines of the stalls. And while most spent their daily grind with wives and children, they don't appear to enjoy themselves (or each other), which Jones attributes to turmoil from constrictive social pressures. Sen. Larry Craig may have something to teach us about this.

For more information on the Whitney Biennial, which runs until June 1, 2008, visit Whitney.org.

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