Big Butts

Burra, Edward, Soldiers at Rye, 1941, Tate, © Tate

Edward Burra, Soldiers at Rye, 1941, Tate, © Tate

Gay art’s all the rage at the major museums. First there was Hide/Seek at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 2010, then Masculin / Masculin at the Musée d’Orsay in 2013, and now Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain. A survey show covering more than a century of queer life, it’s as much history as art, and there are odd little things, like the calling card on which Bosie’s nasty dad called Wilde a “sodomite,” that are surely more the province of an archive than a gallery. But judging from the distant view afforded by the internet, there are still a lot of images that stand on their own, without much need of historical explanation. It’s a big show – eight rooms – and were I in a hurry, I think I’d skip the pre-Raphaelites – so sad and damp – and the Wilde memorabilia, maybe take a quick peak at the Bloomsburies (great portrait of Vita Sackville-West by William Strang) and then head straight to the mid-20th century. I’ve seen enough Bacon and Hockney to know that I like them both and I don’t need that view reinforced here. But I’m curious about John Craxton and Edward Burra, both of whom are new to me. Burra’s bird-mouthed Soldiers at Rye reminds me of Gore Vidal at his best – that same savage mix of sex and politics. With their sharp beaks and massive butts, Burra’s soldiers look like they could eat you alive.