Last August I recommended my readers check out the biography Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade. Steward was one of those fascinating gay men whose life on the margins of society during much of the twentieth century was so meandering and unpredictable that it reads more like fiction than fact. A constant chronicler of his sexual life, he managed to bed (among the hundreds and thousands he obsessively tracked in a ‘stud file’ of three-by-five cards) were celebrities like Rudolph Valentino, Rock Hudson, and Thornton Wilder. He was a illustrator fascinated by the art of tattooing, a writer who gained a late-in-life notoriety under the pen name of Phil Andros, and an all-around fascinating pervert who made even Alfred Kinsey gawp in wonder.
I recommended the book highly when it came out and still do, not least because it was written by one of my blog’s readers, but because author Justin Spring managed to craft a fascinating narrative of a life that’s usually overlooked and neglected, but which, when examined, proves to be overflowing with all kinds of literary and sociocultural interest.
Well. Last night I put on some clean duds, hopped on Metro North, and headed into Manhattan to the Museum of Sex, because Justin very kindly invited me to an opening night private party for an exhibition of Steward’s memorabilia. "Obscene Diary: The Secret Archive of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Pornographer" is the name of the exhibit, and I’ve got to tell you guys, if you’re in the metropolitan New York area, take an afternoon or evening and visit the place. It was easily the best exhibit in the museum.
It was a little crowded last night—the freely-flowing alcohol served by muscled boys in Speedos had something to do with it, methinks—but I managed to spend a good hour walking around the gallery, looking at the original manuscripts of Steward’s earliest writings, the cards from his stud file (including the celebrity encounters, with their secret codes outlining exactly what the pair did), the drawings, the tattoo designs, the books, the reams of explicit photographs from the guy’s infamous orgies. There’s definitely a lot of obscene material there.
And frankly, all I could think, while I moved through the crowd, was, I wonder what all my crap would look like, nicely framed and under glass?
Justin, who’s the exhibit’s curator, managed to track me down among the crowd and talk to me for a few minutes—which only confirmed my belief that he’s a hell of a smart man and, by inviting me, has exquisite taste in his friendships. He confided that the installation was finished only minutes before the doors opened that night, and that the paint was still drying on some of the walls even as we spoke. If you’re reading this, Justin, thanks for being not only a gracious and handsome host, but a learned gentleman, as well.
Take the day or weekend off and have a little field trip, guys. It’s well worth it.