Jonathan Katz, Noted Art Historian And Scholar of Queer Studies, Joins UB Faculty

Author, curator and activist will head new PhD program in Department of Visual Studies

Release Date: September 27, 2010

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Sept. 9 issue of the New York Times included an article about an important new art exhibition scheduled to open Oct. 30 in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution: "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture."

It is the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture and marks a major distinction in the career of art historian Jonathan D. Katz, PhD, a new associate professor in the University at Buffalo Visual Arts Department where he will direct the new doctoral program.

Katz and National Portrait Gallery historian David C. Ward co-curated the exhibition, which will consider 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.

Ward and Katz co-authored the exhibition's 304-page catalog, also titled "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture," which is scheduled to be published within the next few weeks.

Katz is a pioneering academic, prodigious scholar and gay activist who has made scholarly contributions to queer studies the focus of his professional career. His accomplishments are frequently accompanied by such terms as "new" and "first."

In the 1990s, for instance, he was the first full-time American academic to be tenured in the field of gay and lesbian studies. He founded and chaired both the Harvey Milk Institute, the largest queer studies institute in the world, and the Queer Caucus for Art of the College Art Association. He also co-founded Queer Nation San Francisco, and was the first artistic director of the National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco.

This is a banner year for Katz. In addition to his Smithsonian exhibition, he has another major exhibition under development, a new book coming out, and, with two British colleagues, is a co-investigator on a $770,000 project examining sexuality in the surrealist movement.

And, of course, the UB doctoral program in visual studies and its emphasis are new, if not for Katz, then for the university, which is precisely why he is here.

"I am very excited at the prospect of directing a graduate program in visual studies that will take into consideration -- for the first time -- issues of gender and sexuality," he says.

"Art history has been slow to embrace 20 years of scholarship in this field," he says, "but because of plans already in place, UB is poised to become a world leader in this area of study."

He points out that others in his department, including Assistant Professors Elizabeth Otto and Lori Johnson are working in this sphere, which permits the department to advertise the program as having a strong investment in issues of gender and sex.

Although it has barely begun, Katz says he wants to see the doctoral program expanded, and is investigating possible sources of private funding. The department shortly will be in the position, he says, to announce relationships with overseas institutions currently vested in gender and sexuality research.

Katz's central scholarly concern is why the American avant-garde in the Cold War era came to be dominated and defined by queer artists who remained silent about their sexuality in what was perhaps the single most homophobic decade in this nation's history.

His research and writing has focused on composer John Cage and painters Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, although he also has written about poet Frank O'Hara, French theorist and radical feminist Monique Wittig, artists Agnes Martin, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and others.

Katz gave his first lecture here Sept. 13 and on Oct. 6 will present a talk in the UB Humanities Institute's New Faculty Series titled "The Sexuality of Abstraction: Agnes Martin." It will begin at 3:30 p.m. in 830 Clemens Hall and is free and open to the public.

He also is co-principal investigator on a three-year, $770,000 UK Arts and Humanities Research Council grant to fund a study titled "Same Sex Desire in Surrealism." His co-investigators are art historians David Lomas of the University of Manchester (UK) and Dawn Ades, OBE, FBA, of the University of Essex (UK), both of whom specialize in surrealist studies.

His publications also include many essays, journal articles and book chapters and two books-in-progress, to be published by the University of Chicago Press: "The Silent Camp: Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and the Cold War" and "Art, Eros and the Sixties."

Katz curated several exhibitions at Yale and at SUNY Stony Brook and now, with Rock Hushka of the Tacoma Art Museum, is co-curating "AIDS/Art/America," a major 2013-14 international touring exhibition funded in part by a Warhol Foundation grant.

He also is writing the exhibition's full-scale catalog, which Katz calls, "the first large scale presentation of art from the plague years; the first examination of the ways AIDS shifted post-modernist premises in the art world once the 'death of the author' became sadly, repeatedly, literalized."

Before coming to UB, Katz was a Terra Foundation Senior Fellow at London's Courtauld Institute and an honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester, a post he has held since 2008. He was a visiting associate professor at Smith College (2007) and associate professor of art history at Yale University (2002-06) where he also was founding director of the Lesbian and Gay Studies Program and coordinated the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies that preceded it.

Katz serves on the Board of Directors and is curator of the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation, which is building America's first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Museum in New York City.

He has taught at SUNY Stony Brook, the University of Amsterdam and, from 1991 to 1999, was a member of the City College of San Francisco's Department of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Studies, which he also chaired and where he became country's first full-time tenured faculty member in that field.

Katz is a graduate of George Washington University with a BA in philosophy and literature. He holds an MA in the humanities from the University of Chicago, and a PhD in art history from Northwestern University.

He has been a fellow of the Clark Institute and Williams College, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Social Science Research Council, the Smithsonian Institution and the Kress Foundation; he also was the recipient of a 2009-10 Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Book Grant for $50,000.

His activism is extensively discussed in Phyllis Burke's "Family Values," (1993) Frank Browning's "The Culture of Desire: Paradox and Perversity in Gay Lives Today," (1993) and in Chieko Kuriki's "The Gay Rights Movement in America" (1997) as well as in numerous periodicals and newspapers.

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