Essays by Katz
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WORK OF JONATHAN D. KATZ
Jonathan D. Katz works at the intersection of art history and queer history, one of the busiest intersections in American culture, and yet one of the least studied. A specialist in the arts of the Cold War era, he is centrally concerned with the question of why the American avant-garde came to be dominated and defined by queer artists during what was perhaps the single most homophobic decade in this nation's history. The four essay reproduced here all attempt to read the work of some of these central Cold War artists like John Cage, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg in terms of resistance to dominant culture. But theirs' was a queer kind of resistance, almost illegible as dissident, for it employed strategies like silence, chance, emptiness and coding to mark its distance from the dominant social historical climes. Paradoxically, these quiet, closeted forms of resistance soon came to define the American avant-garde across the board. These essays attempt to explain how and why.
This essay tracks the remarkable similarities between the language of Cold War culture and the art of the post-Abstract Expressionist generation of gay men. Drawing from a number of key texts of the fifties, it analyzes the close relationship between Cold War straight intellectuals and these gay artists, arguing that both groups can be fruitfully understood as, in the language of the time, "Organization Men."
Tracing the origins of Pop art all the way back to the earliest work of Cold War queer artists, this article draws subtle but productive connections between, for example, Warhol's iconic movie stars and Rauschenberg's all-white White Paintings of the early fifties. It offers a route towards understanding popular culture's increasingly acknowledged fascination with a camp culture once exclusively identified as homosexual.
This essay explores the different meanings and possibilities found in the silences that permeated the work of John Cage during the Cold War, culminating in his infamous 4'33' of silence. Beginning with the simple observation that a gay composer made silence the hallmark of his work during what was probably the most homophobic decade in American history, the essay then develops the idea that silence in the face of oppression can be understood not only as a sign of the closet, but also as a form of resistance. Weaving together biography and theory drawn form the work of Derrida and Foucault, coupled with close readings of early compositions, I argue that indeed silence may not only have been the sole means of resistance available to gay men of the period, but that silence-as-resistance avoided some of the complicated problematics of traditional oppositional politics, wherein resistance is met with containment and little real change is possible. Especially within the highly policed McCarthyite culture of the American Cold War fifties, then, silence may have been a strategy carefully calibrated to manifest resistance while avoiding the directly confrontational, a tactic especially useful for closeted gay men.
A careful, extremely close reading of the collage material in a series of key Rauschenberg and Johns paintings that finds a continuing interpictorial dialog between the two men centered on repeated citations of the theme of divers and diving. Referencing the original comic strips, advertisements and newspaper stories containing the theme, the idea of divers and diving is explored for its possible meanings to Johns and Rauschenberg at the time.
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Allen Ginsberg was frank about his sexuality in his poetry long before such honesty was the norm. Yet he also refused the gay activist label that people repeatedly tried to hang on him. This essay explains why.
>“Committing The Perfect Crime:” Sexuality, Assemblage and the Postmodern Turn in American Art