Watch & Listen
Jared French, State Park | Video in American Sign Language
Educator Lauren Ridloff discusses a work by Jared French in the exhibition Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960.
This painting by Jared French seems straightforward at first. But when you look closer, you realize that the narrative is a little more ambiguous. There are a few different things happening in this image. We see a man standing tall with big muscles. It is a little sexual. Look at the whistle lying on his chest, and the bullystick in his hand. Both are phallic symbols. Art historian Richard Meyer sees this painting as a critique of postwar family values. We see two men standing, and between them a family. A nuclear family. Mom, dad and a child. But they look disconnected from each other, there is a feeling of alienation. There is no eye contact, no connection.
French frequented Fire Island, a popular place for gay men, with his wife Margaret Hoenig and Paul Cadmus, his partner. French was bisexual. The three of them worked on a photographic projects together, calling themselves PaJaMa. Using the first two letters of each of their names. They photographed each other on the beach, striking different poses. This painting is from one of those photos. The content of French’s work displays his lifestyle. French’s work was magical realism. Fusing painterly techniques with realism.