the abstract and brief chronicle of the time
The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America by Edward White; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2015)
Novelist, art critic and photographer, Carl Van Vechten was a tireless chronicler and promoter of the New York cultural scene in the early to mid 20th century. Like many modernists he was deeply concerned with ‘realness’ and sought the deep truth of human experience in our desires and passions. He was a big booster of black American culture, which he thought was less mediated and more authentic than white. As a result, he became a friend and advocate to many of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance. However, more than a little megalomaniacal, he was often accused of exploiting black artists, writers and performers.
Nonetheless his role in breaking down barriers between black and white artistic cultures was unquestionably important – which is attested by the number of black thinkers that defended and embraced him throughout his life.
Sadly White never seems entirely comfortable addressing Van Vechten’s sexuality – despite carrying on intense romantic relationships simultaneously with both men and women throughout his entire life, White doesn’t actually describe Van Vechten as bisexual. And though he takes Van Vechten’s long running affairs with male lovers seriously, he is never as comfortable exploring them as he is Van Vechten’s strained but loving relationship with his wife.
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