© Robert Crumb, 2009.
Artstars* creator, Nadja Sayej was at the Venice Biennale to interview the art world’s biggest and brightest. While she didn’t get her interviews, she did get a bookmark featuring a rejected cover piece by Robert Crumb for the New Yorker:
“On the flight home to Berlin, I was digging through my bag when I noticed a red book I had forgotten I’d acquired. It was the exhibition catalogue from the Biennale’s famed Danish Pavilion, which seemed like a shitty consolation prize, until I flipped to the bookmark stuck between its pages.
The cardboard placeholder featured a color comic by R[obert] Crumb depicting a drag queen and king holding hands in front of a marriage-license clerk [with a sign on the wall indicating where the 'gender inspection ' would take place]. On its flip side was a blurb from Crumb explaining that the image was intended to be the cover of a 2009 issue of the New Yorker but was rejected for reasons unknown.”
Sayej got in touch with Crumb to interview him about the artwork and the rejection. What I like about the interview is that Crumb explains eloquently (but in true crude Crumb fashion) what makes the artwork so appealing to me:
“The verdict isn’t in [about the sex, sexuality or gender of these two people]; that’s the whole point. Banning gay marriage is ridiculous because how are you supposed to tell what fucking gender anybody is if they’re bending it around? It could be anything—a she-male marrying a transsexual, or what the hell. People are capable of any sexual thing. To ban their marriage because someone doesn’t like the idea of them both being the same sex, that’s ridiculous. That was the whole point of the cover; here is this official from the marriage-license bureau, and he can’t tell if he’s seeing a man and a woman or two women. What the hell are they? You can’t tell what they are! I had the idea of making them both look unisex, no gender at all. On TV once I saw this person who is crusading against sexual definition, and you could not tell if this person was male or female—completely asexual. I was originally going to do the cover that way, but when I drew that it just looked uninteresting so I decided it should be more lurid somehow.”
The interesting thing about this situation is that, if this couple is (in fact) a man and a woman they can marry. Here in Australia, as with many other countries that do no legally recognise same-sex marriages, a marriage is “… the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life” (see the definition of ‘marriage’ in s5 of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth)). If one of them is legally a man and the other legally a woman then they can marry regardless of their transvestism. So, while this may not be the wedding a conservative political agenda had in mind, it would be legal, adding a whole other dimension to Crumb’s work.
I recommend reading the rest of the interview. In particular, it’s worth reading Crumb’s thoughts on the New Yorker‘s lack of transparency around editorial decisions. Crumb’s response to one question in particular — ”Do you think the New Yorker is homophobic?’ — speaks volumes about the inadvertent censoring that can occur in the left-leaning press:
I think it’s the opposite. The New Yorker is majorly politically correct, terrified of offending some gay person. I asked this gay friend of mine, Paul Morris, “If you saw this cover on the New Yorker, would you be offended?” He said, “I’d wanna hang it on my wall!”
Keep reading the interview: Crumb talks about a ten-volume book project for Taschen slated for next year, why he doesn’t do on camera interviews anymore and the virtues of conducting interviews over webcam, in this instance to get a view of Sayej’s “really, really big breasts” as she conducted the interview in lingerie. ;)
UPDATE 14 November 2011 @ 1.27 pm Seems Sayej’s interview scooped the story. The story is now all over the international media and the blogosphere. I guess she won’t be saying, “I went to Venice to meet artists and all I got was this lousy bookmark”!
♺ Nadja Sayej on’The Gayest Story Ever Told‘ on Viceland Today, 13 November 2011. (Apparently it’s also in the latest issue of Vice as well).