Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 2, Issue 1
fall 2011
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editor, John-Albert Moseley
Layout Design: Nick Appleby

Jonathan D. Katz and the (Il)Legible Queerness of Art

by Christopher C. Young, first year graduate student in American Studies

Jonathan Katz

Jonathan D. Katz, Director of the Doctoral Program in Visual Studies at the University at Buffalo (as well Honorary Research Faculty at the University of Manchester, UK and President of the newly opened Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York), returned to Yale University on 27 September 2011 to discuss queerness and art. In introductory remarks by Yale faculty, Katz was recognized for his substantial contributions to the shape of WGSS and LGBT Studies at Yale in his former capacity as the founding Executive Coordinator of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies on this campus. Addressing Sally Promey’s ‘Material Sensations’ seminar, Katz described his curation of and the controversy surrounding “Hide/Seek: Difference, Desire, and the Invention of Modern American Portraiture” (2010-11). Now infamous for Catholic League machinations that resulted in the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s Fire in my Belly from the exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition should—Katz contended—be remembered for the progress it represented as the first of its kind in a major American museum. Beyond the censorship of the Wojnarowicz video, Katz emphasized the undeniable though often obfuscated existence of queer desire in American art. Speaking to a crowded auditorium in Loria Center that evening, Katz shared his recent research on Agnes Martin, abstraction, and Zen, asserting the transcendental presence of sexuality in her abstract work, taking up the process of demystification implied earlier in the day. Katz’s rejection of what he called a hubristic approach to art—one that asks for sexuality and desire to arrive in easily identifiable forms—and his exploration of the seemingly illegible marked his visit, much as it has defined his work as activist, curator, and academic.  Katz’s visit was co-sponsored by the Sensory Cultures of Religion Research Group, the History of Art Department, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at Yale.

Find us on