This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.
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Scholar of queer studies joins UB faculty

This is a banner year for Jonathan Katz: He is curating an art exhibition at the Smithsonian, developing another major exhibition, has a new book coming out and is co-investigator on a $770,000 project examining sexuality in the surrealist movement. Katz is photographed in the Poetry Collection with a portrait, “The Door of Many Colored Glass,” and piano by the artist Jess. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

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

    Jonathan Katz
    Associate Professor of Visual Studies
Published: September 30, 2010

The Sept. 9 issue of the New York Times featured an article about an important new art exhibition scheduled to open Oct. 20 in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” 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 and new UB faculty member Jonathan D. Katz.

Katz, associate professor and director of the new doctoral program in the Department of Visual Arts, and National Portrait Gallery historian David C. Ward co-curated the exhibition, which considers the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America, how artists explore the fluidity of sexuality and gender, how major themes in modern art—especially abstraction—are influenced by social marginalization, and how art reflects 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’s 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, 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 soon will be in the position, he says, to announce relationships with overseas institutions currently vested in gender and sexuality research.

Katz’ 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 on Sept. 13, and next week will present a talk in the Humanities Institute’s New Faculty Series.

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 of the University of Essex (UK), both of whom specialize in surrealist studies.

His publications 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 Stony Brook University, 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 he 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 Stony Brook University, the University of Amsterdam and, from 1991-99, 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 received a BA in philosophy and literature from George Washington University, 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 (2007-08), the Smithsonian Museum of American Art (2006-07), the Social Science Research Council (2000-01), the Smithsonian Institution (1989) and the Kress Foundation (1988), and is the recipient of a 2009-10 Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Book Grant for $50,000.