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Jonathan Katz to lecture on controversial exhibition, censorship Feb. 7

January 28, 2011

Jessica H. Reed

Light Work, Hendricks Chapel and the LGBT Resource Center have announced a Feb. 7 lecture by Jonathan Katz, co-curator of the important Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” The talk will take place at 6 p.m. in Watson Auditorium.

Co-curated by Katz and David C. Ward, this monumental exhibition is the first to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture. The exhibition has been praised for its groundbreaking scholarship by a major museum and drew international attention when a video in the exhibition by David Wojnarowicz was removed from the exhibition under pressure from a right-wing religious group and conservative politicians.

censorshipThe exhibition considers such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America; how artists explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender; how major themes in modern art—especially abstraction—were influenced by social marginalization; and how art reflected society’s evolving and changing attitudes toward sexuality, desire and romantic attachment.

According to Blake Gopnik of The Washington Post, the exhibition features a “… fascinating world, and powerful art.…” He goes on to state that, “Scholars Jonathan Katz and David Ward have mounted one of the best thematic exhibitions in years.” According to Holland Cotter of The New York Times, “With the exhibition ‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,’ one of our federally funded museums, the National Portrait Gallery, here in the city of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ has gone where our big private museums apparently dare not tread, deep into the history of art by and about gay artists.”

The exhibition attracted international attention when Wojnarowicz’s video, “A Fire in My Belly,” was removed from the exhibition by G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, after receiving complaints from William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, as well as Republican John Boehner, Speaker of the House, and Eric Cantor, Republican Majority Leader. The removal of the video from the exhibition has sparked public outcry from arts organizations and activists around the world, including the Tate Modern in London, the Whitney Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and SF MOMA in San Francisco, among many others. Light Work joined these protests in early December by organizing a screening of “A Fire in My Belly” on Dec. 14 in collaboration with the ArtRage Gallery, which included a public forum about the work. Light Work will continue to show the video until Feb. 13, the date the exhibition is scheduled to close in Washington, D.C.

Light Work presents this event as an opportunity for Katz to discuss the process of curating this important exhibition, its significance, as well as the controversy surrounding the entire exhibition and Wojnarowicz’s video. In addition, there will be a question-and-answer session with Katz and audience members through which Light Work hopes to continue the dialogue about this exhibition, censorship and the controversy.

Katz, a scholar of post-war art and culture from the vantage point of sexuality, is an associate professor and director of the visual studies doctoral program at SUNY Buffalo, as well as honorary research faculty at the University of Manchester, UK, and a guest curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. Known as an activist academic, Katz was the founding director of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale University—the first queer studies program in the Ivy League—and founding chair of the first department of gay and lesbian studies in the United States, at City College of San Francisco in 1990. He co-founded the activist group Queer Nation, San Francisco, and the San Francisco National Queer Arts Festival, and founded the Queer Caucus of the College Art Association. Ward is a historian of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

The website offers an archive of information about the censorship of “A Fire in My Belly,” as well as a growing list of arts institutions that are hosting events and screenings in support of Wojnarowicz and freedom of artistic expression.

Limited free parking for this event is available in Booth Garage—RSVP to Light Work (315-443-1300). The event is free and open to the public. Gallery hours to view the video are Sunday to Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., and by appointment. To schedule an appointment, call (315) 443-1300.

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