High on my personal must-have list for 2015 is Kevin Clarke’s “The Art of Looking: the Life and Treasures of Collector Charles Leslie (Bruno Gmuender, 2015, $59.99), which succeeds mightily in every regard.
This beautifully produced, lavishly illustrated oversized book immediately establishes itself as an essential part of the library of any reader whose interests include Art History, Biography, Erotica, Gender Studies, AIDS Activism, and Art as related to Sociology.
In a writing style that is so essentially personal as to be almost conversational, Clarke clarifies the kaleidoscopic relationship between Charles Leslie’s Life and the Art so essential to the quality of that life.
As he traces Leslie’s personal story, often in his own words, from its beginning to the present, the author makes it possible for the reader to perceive the many ways in which that Life and that Art continue to define and re-define each other.
The enduring power of the relationship between Charles Leslie and his partner Fritz Lohman will always be represented by their joint project: the bold and unprecedented initiative of founding and maintaining the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, the only museum in the world devoted exclusively to the art of out gay and lesbian artists.
While the substance of the book is, theoretically, the photo-documentation of the art at the core of Leslie’s personal collection and that of his museum, those images are enhanced not only by charming and beguiling personal anecdotes, but also by objective and rigorous historical context.
The result is a view into the behind-the-scenes that is as passionate and intimate as it is grand and thought-provoking.
“The Art of Looking” is a beautifully detailed and authentic portrait of its most engaging and challenging subject: Charles Leslie. The book itself is a work of art: its design, the quality of its paper, its size and weight, and the stunning beauty of its illustrations make handling “The Art of Looking” a rare pleasure.
The Bruno Gmuender catalogue is primarily known for its handsome coffee table books, focusing on provocative male images, captured by international photographers of interest, such as “Turn-on Sports,” featuring Serbian Zoran Trifunovic’s work; erotica; calendars; guides; erotica; how-tos; light fiction; and fantasy. A welcome alternative, “The Art of Looking” takes its place among a growing number of books in the Gmuender catalogue which offer opportunities for more serious reading, such as “Harvey Milk,” the biography by Randy Shilts; “Welcome to Berlin,” by Christopher Isherwood; “Jack Holmes and his Friend,” by Edmund White; and "Stroke: From Under the Mattress to out in the Open," by Robert W. Richards and Hunter O’Hanian, documenting a recent exhibit at the Leslie-Lohman Museum.
Sales of “The Art of Looking” have been so active that a second printing is planned. Why am I not surprised?