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The Courtauld | ‘”What do you say about homosexuals?” Gene Swenson’s “Other” Tradition’

November 8, 2021 @ 11:00 am - 12:30 pm

This talk begins with the question “What do you say about homosexuals?,” which critic Gene Swenson posed on tape to Andy Warhol in 1963 (in an unknown recording I uncovered during my research). Using Swenson’s question as an opening salvo, I trace the development of Swenson’s critical project, which reaches an apex with his 1966 essay and exhibition “The Other Tradition.” Embracing the imperative to say something “about homosexuals,” Swenson developed new theories for how art engenders queer subjectivity. Swenson argues that art breaks down normative distinctions between public and private, and that it posits a queer “post-Freudian” sexuality that is explicit on the surface rather than repressed in the subconscious. “We still psychoanalyze ourselves in a Freudian manner although we may not be the least suppressed with Victorian ‘secrets,’” as Swenson writes in his essay “The Other Tradition.” Swenson’s critical project was cut short, however, as institutions increasingly refused to host his ideas or publish his writing. For example, in 1967 the National Gallery of Canada commissioned Swenson to write an essay on James Rosenquist, which it did not publish because Swenson would not acquiesce to the museum’s demand that he excise specific passages. Drawing from the wealth of unpublished archival material that I discovered during my research, this talk analyzes Swenson’s critical project as well as the conditions that constrained and curtailed what he could do and say.
Jennifer Sichel is Assistant Professor of Contemporary Art and Theory at the University of Louisville. Her research focuses on 20th-century art, criticism, and visual culture of the United States, with an emphasis on investigating how art manifests queer forms of attachment and belonging. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the Clark Art Institute, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the Humanities Division at the University of Chicago. She holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Chicago, an MA from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art, and a BA in art history and philosophy from Boston University.
Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld) and Dr Tom Day (The Courtauld).