QUEER VISUALITIES: Reframing Sexulaity in a Post-Warhol World
Essay by Jonathan D. Katz

Andy Warhol's 1964 print "Birmingham Race Riot" framed in an overtly decorative, faux-baroque white frame of questionable taste by the artist Cary Liebowitz. A famous image of racial injustice first framed by a newspaper photographer, then reframed by Warhol as a work of fine art, reframed yet again by Liebowitz -- this time literally -- and here reframed yet again as the totemic image of this exhibition. An immediate, searing record of the civil rights movement made to function in a different context by Warhol, yet another by Liebowitz, yet another by me. A decrescendo of sorts -- real violence to reportage to reproduction, distanciation, normalization, reinvestment, resuscitation, remove. Such is the afterlife of images, a storm-tossed career in which meaning is always negotiated through current needs and investments -- no permanence, no guarantees.

This exhibition is, broadly, about such reframings, about art as a quotation inside a quotation inside a quotation, the endless reframing exposing the inherently constructed quality of representation, even at its most putatively natural. Warhol was hardly the first to realize this, Manet's Le dejuener sur lâ herbe beat him there by almost exactly a century -- but he is the artist who most powerfully framed the issue for our generation. And, not least for my purposes, he stands like a colossus at the intersection of this most modern recognition about the unnaturalness of representation, even photographic representation, and another form of representation even more powerfully framed in terms of nature, sexuality. For Warhol is the ur- queer artist, a man who repeatedly, the recent LAMOCA retrospective notwithstanding, framed himself and his work as queer, who actually femmed it up in public.

To understand sexuality as inherently unnatural, as but representation can seem counterintuitive, or at least did so until Foucault's pathbreaking A History of Sexuality. Our customary Freudian inflected notion of sexuality sees it as interior, not anterior -- an inchoate, rushing stream of needs and desires which can assuredly be dammed but which will nonetheless spill out in various unanticipated ways countering its repressions. In contrast, Queer theory finds sexuality more anterior than interior, less an inchoate rushing stream than a citation of cultural codes which occupy a position and thereby place us on a social map. What was it Oscar Wilde wrote in this vein over a century ago? "Want to fall in love? Well then recite love's litany." To be in love is to represent oneself as being in love, there is nothing more to it than that. Queerness in this frame is the acceptance of a discursive position, a self-framing. Like the idea that there is no representation segregated from the history of other representations, and that all images continue to shed and accrue meanings with time, so too sexuality as a representation of selfhood shifts.

Images have a history and so do sexualities and the truth of all things historical is that they change. Liebowitz's Warhol materializes this historical moment in our discourse, framing Warhol as central for precisely his acknowledgement of how things can't be permanently framed. Every artist in this show likewise reframes historical significations--from Kass' refracting of Warhol through a lesbian feminist lens, to Lemcke's poetic playwith Indonesian shadow puppets to Cronin's embrace of a Victorian embrace. Diaz offers a Pollock made current through precisely the decorative effects, so gendered, so colonized, their originator rigorously eschewed. And so this essay framing this show is likewise marked by its historical moment, and writing it, I can already feel how it's framed by its time. "Presentness is grace."