Tag Archives: Jonathan D. Katz

Big Queer Art Show! ReMix: ReFraming Appropriation at SOMArts – QCC’s 15th Anniversary

It’s Big. It’s Queer. It’s Arty as All Get Out. It’s ReMix: Reframing Appropriation at SOMArts Gallery, and it’s opening Friday and running through June.

Join the Queer Cultural Center in a Reunion of 15 years of visual arts programs housed at SOMArts!  There will, of course, be libations to take us into the next 15 years and special recognition of those who have participated in exhibitions from FACE (1998) to QIY (2011) and the curators, funders and supporting organizations that made these shows happen!

Wear your best outfits, pick up your nametags at the door and come back to SOMArts for a fabulous Visual Arts Reunion!

ReMix: ReFraming Appropriation mines 15 years of National Queer Arts Festival exhibitions towards understanding the centrality of the act of appropriation for queer art of the recent past.  Using appropriation as its lens, it sifts through all the art exhibited over the last 15 years, selecting those works for redisplay that map the parameters of queer appropriation as it has evolved through to today.

Curated by Jonathan D. Katz, former Board Member and one of the first curators of the National Queer Arts Festival, ReMix: ReFraming Appropriation in essence appropriates years of appropriations in order to both articulate and enact how queer politics so often turns on making familiar images and ideas ventriloquize new politics, new identities, and new utopias. This show revisits some of the many powerful works exhibited since the inception of the National Queer Arts Festival 15 years ago and remixes them in an effort to isolate a key theme of queer art making since at least the 1990s: appropriation. Appropriation—taking over of an extant cultural form to make it speak in a new voice—has long been a queer strategy. It’s a way of remaking dominant culture from within, as queers often do; most of us were born of a straight world, yet found a way to carve out meanings that spoke to us even if they were not intended by the larger culture. Notably, the exhibition is itself an example of the phenomenon it investigates, for it appropriates previous exhibitions–and curatorial visions–to new effect, allowing these varied works, all previously seen, to return in a new form, with new meanings. It queers the queer.

Curator Jonathan D. Katz Statement on Smithsonian NPG censorship of Hide/Seek exhibit

On the scandal at the Smithsonian:

Statement from Jonathan D. Katz, co-curator of the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek:Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.

I curated, with David C. Ward of the National Portrait Gallery, the groundbreaking exhibition Hide/Seek. Sadly, I was not consulted when the Smithsonian elected to censor a work by David Wojnarowicz, and then redoubled that insult by referring to “AIDS victims” in their statement—employing the very victimizing locution Wojnarowicz fought with his dying breath to oppose. (Ward was “consulted” but his objections were ignored.) An exhibition explicitly intended to finally, in 2010, break a 21-year-old blacklist against the representation of same sex desire in America’s major museums now, ironically, finds itself in the same boat. In 1989, Senator Jesse Helms demonized Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexuality, and by extension, his art, and with little effort pulled a cowering art world to its knees. His weapon was threatening to disrupt the already pitiful Federal support for the arts. And once again, that same weapon is being brandished and once again we cower. When will it be time for the decent majority of Americans stand against a far-Right fringe that sees censorship as a replacement for dialog and debate? There are larger principles at work, and generations hence will judge our actions today.

This is a culture war we did not seek out, nor start. But appeasing tyranny has never worked and can never work, for tyranny wants only obedience, and blind obedience is antithetical to what this nation stands for; we were, as a people, born in protest to tyranny. Were the men and women whose portraits grace the National Portrait Gallery able to take a stand, I have little doubt they would line up behind the separation of Church and State, enshrined in our Constitution, that this incident calls so painfully into question. Furthermore, they would readily agree that America’s core value, also enshrined in our Constitution, is our freedom of speech. With this as our defining principle, it stands to reason we will disagree, but our disagreements are healthy, even necessary to achieving a genuine democracy. We should be promoting this national conversation, not killing it. Art in general, and this kind of art in particular, is precisely a spur to conversation and to thought–something all civil society should support and celebrate. But when the Smithsonian, under pressure to be sure, starts bowing to its censors, it abrogates its charge as our National museum. But let’s also not lose sight of the fact that the National Portrait Gallery alone had the courage to defy a shameful silence that every other institution in the US upheld. We can not and should not leave them hanging. Where are our democratic Representatives when we most need them to be battling this naked power grab by a resurgent Right? Please write your Senators and Congressional Representatives and urge them to stand against Boehner, Cantor and their calls for a police state. We must nip this in the bud lest 2010 become the 80s all over again.

Over a century and half ago, Walt Whitman wrote, in support of precisely the core values currently under threat:

Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

Whoever degrades another degrades me, And whatever is done or said returns at last to me….

Through me forbidden voices, Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil’d and I remove the veil, Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur’d.

We sought to remove a veil and in opposing that move, our enemies have damaged our democracy once again. I pray it is not another 21 years before someone else tries to remove that veil again. I am sad for us all.

Jonathan D. Katz, Director, Visual Studies Doctoral Program, SUNY Buffalo