Curated by Wolfgang Theis
The inside of a Moroccan house: seated in the middle of the yard is Charles W. Leslie, his German shepherd dog “Joy” stretched out at his feet. They are surrounded by opulent vegetation; there are plants and vases with flowers everywhere. Pure exotism, including a fountain. If you look closely, you will notice that the water the fountain spurts is a fantasia of men fucking. Actually, there are men everywhere in this “House of Joy.” They are incorporated into the traditional Arab titles and into the leaves of the trees. A snake is winding its way upwards on a stem – a symbol of seduction and original sin.
This is a triptych of sexual arousal in which everything, right down to the very last detail, is interpreted as ‘gay.’ Wherever you look, there’s love. It’s the love that Oscar Wilde once described as “the love that dare not speak its name” in a 1894 poem to Lord Alfred Douglas; it was later used against him in the “gross indecency trial” that ended with Wilde being sent to prison.
Generations of gay men – and a few lesbian women – have gone to Morocco as a refuge from Western morals. They saw Morocco as a place of yearning and a personal paradise. Oscar Wilde took André Gide there and introduced him to the so called “Oriental vice.” The poets of the Beat generation visited Marrakesh and went to see the famous couple Paul and Jane Bowles (The Sheltering Sky). Fashion designers and rich heirs, such as Yves Saint Laurent and Arndt von Bohlen-Halbach, built houses there and escaped from a sexually repressed life back home. Even Roland Barthes sang the praises of Arab boys.
Charles W. Leslie, who founded the Leslie + Lohman Museum of Gay und Lesbian Art in New York City with his late partner Fritz Lohman, also created a refuge for himself in the old part of Marrakesh. It’s a place where he can get away from the buzz of Manhattan, a place he has visited extensively every year since the 1950s, encountering almost all the other famous gay and lesbian expatriates.
Berlin based artist Kai Teichert visited Charles Leslie in this “House of Joy” in 2016. He tried to capture the deep-rooted sexual frizzle that the house represents in a large triptych. It’s a homage to Charles Leslie: patron of LGBTIQ* arts, fighter for gay liberation, supporter of people in need. Every arabesque in Teichert’s painting is a distorting mirror, revealing the true nature of things. Because all “joy wants eternity,” as Nietzsche once said.
The collages of Kai Teichert which are also presented in this exhibition are composed of intimate photographic close-ups. The fruit baskets, birds, and flower still-lives are made out of human body details, but you only realize this when you look closely. Teichert portrays people: he takes snapshots of their nude bodies, cuts out details, and rearranges these to a new image. It’s an astonishing metamorphosis – the results are ‘in your face’ and completely ‘hidden’ at the same time.
These collages have already been shown at the Leslie + Lohman Museum in New York and at the Antebellum Gallery in Hollywood. It’s the first time that they are displayed in an exhibition in Berlin.
Curator Wolfgang Theis is one of the founders of the Schwules Museum* Berlin and, just like Charles W. Leslie, a pioneer in the LGBTIQ* museum world.