Between the Two: Art and Sexuality in 1960s New York

Webinar Series

In June 2023, the WPI hosted Between the Two: Art and Sexuality in 1960s New York, a webinar series exploring gender, sexuality, and eroticism in the art of early 1960s New York, with a particular focus on ideas and artists circulating around Pop, Performance, and Neo-Dada. The series began from the thesis that the exploration of gender and sexuality was not simply a secondary theme, but a constitutive element of artistic development during this period. Moreover, it expanded on recent scholarship that explores queer, trans, and feminist perspectives in the art of the period and in the art historical approaches to it. 

Female smoker with outlined knuckles, c. 1975, undated; Tom Wesselmann Papers , The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.


Delinquency, Deviancy, and their Queer Refashionings in Art of the 1960s — with David J. Getsy

Thursday, June 15, 2023 at 1:00 pm ET

Homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s U.S. could be discussed in public and in popular culture, but only if it was cast as a crime or as deviant. Whether as moralizing tales of social outcasts or as high-profile obscenity trials, queer themes filtered into public discourses through these negative stereotypes. Artists such as Andy Warhol, Ray Johnson, Kenneth Anger, and Nancy Grossman appropriated such characters as the delinquent or the biker as a means to figure queerness. This talk will provide an overview of some key moments of queer visibility—in the form of the criminal—in art of the 1960s.

David J. Getsy is the Eleanor Shea Professor of Art History at the University of Virginia. He has published eight books, including Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (Yale University Press, 2015/2023), Queer (MIT Press, 2016), and most recently Queer Behavior: Scott Burton and Performance Art (University of Chicago Press, 2022).

Nancy Grossman, Ali Stoker, 1966–67. Repurposed black leather jackets and other mixed media, 37 1/2 x 49 1/2 x 8 in. (94 x 125.7 x 20.3 cm)

“E.G. [Evening Gown] Orgy”: Jack Smith And Abstract Gender in the 1960s — with Joshua Lubin-Levy

Tuesday, June 20, 2023 at 1:00 pm ET

The scandal surrounding Jack Smith’s film Flaming Creatures (1963), with its overt display of naked bodies writhing in ecstasy and agony, marks a turning point in the history of 1960s sexual liberation—one that often overshadows the artistic experimentation at the core of Smith’s practice.  This talk will look to the live performance work that predates Smith’s renowned film (still banned in New York State) in order to consider the entanglements and abstractions between art, gender, and embodiment swirling in the early part of the 1960s.

Photo by Sandy Aldieri

Joshua Lubin-Levy is a scholar, dramaturg, and curator, currently working on a monograph on the photography and performance work of Jack Smith. He is the Director of the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, Editor-in-Chief of the Movement Research Performance Journal, and a Curatorial Research Associate with the Whitney Museum of American Art. He received his doctorate from the Department of Performance Studies, New York University.

Jack Smith, Untitled photograph, c. 1958–61. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Erotic Art and Feminism in the 1960s — with Rachel Middleman

Thursday, June 22, 2023 at 1:00 pm ET

In 1960s New York, erotic art was a broad, popular category that included everything from Pop art to abstract sculpture. The elasticity of the term “erotic” created a space in which women, later associated with the feminist art movement of the 1970s, publicly confronted stereotypes of gender and expressed their ideas about sexuality. This talk will explore the sexual politics of erotic art across diverse media and the ways that women artists sought to reshape the sexist conventions of “the nude” and upend the presumed objectivity of formalism.

Rachel Middleman is Associate Professor of Art History at California State University, Chico. She is the author of Radical Eroticism: Women, Art, and Sex in the 1960s (University of California Press, 2018). She has published in Art Journal, Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne, Konsthistorisk tidskrift, and Woman’s Art Journal and contributed to edited volumes and exhibition catalogues, including Academics, Artists, and Museums: 21st-Century Partnerships (2018), Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy, the Arts and the American West (2019); In the Cut: The Male Body in Feminist Art (2019); Women, Aging, and Art: A Crosscultural Anthology (2021); Joan Semmel: Skin in the Game (2021);and Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art (2021). She is executor of artist Anita Steckel’s estate and recently curated Anita Steckel: The Feminist Art of Sexual Politics (2022) with Richard Meyer at the Stanford Art Gallery.

Martha Edelheit, Female Flesh Wall, 1964-65, oil on canvas, three panels, 80 x 195 in. © Martha Edelheit, collection of Minneapolis Institute of Art.  

Marisol: Destabilizing Doubles and the Erotics of Sameness — with Cathleen Chaffee

Thursday, June 29, 2023 at 1:00 pm ET

As Minimalist sculptors in the 1960s encoded their references to the human form in an abstract language, Marisol (Venezuelan and American, born France, 1930–2016) used figurative Pop sculpture to treat with absurdity or skepticism the stability of signs by which people are seen as gendered. At the same time, her drawings of the 1960s and 1970s manifested wide-ranging and nonconforming body forms and gender expressions. Through an examination of works featuring in the upcoming exhibition and catalogue Marisol: A Retrospective, this talk contextualizes the artist’s disruptive approach to the figuration of subjectivity, sexuality, and gender. 

Credit to Jeff Mace for Buffalo AKG Art Museum

Cathleen Chaffee is Charles Balbach Chief Curator at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, where she has organized exhibitions with artists including  Christine Sun Kim, Eric N. Mack, Jacob Kassay, Tamar Guimarães, Anthony McCall, Erin Shirreff, Joe Bradley, and Ellie Ga, as well as historical and thematic projects including Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective; Shade: Clyfford Still/Mark Bradford; Looking at Tomorrow: Light and Language from The Panza Collection, 1967–1990; and Overtime: The Art of Work. She co-organized Stanley Whitney: The Italian Paintings, a collateral event at the 59th Venice Biennale. Chaffee previously held curatorial positions at the Yale University Art Gallery; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Chaffee holds a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She is currently preparing traveling retrospectives dedicated to Stanley Whitney (opening at the Buffalo AKG in Spring 2024) and Marisol: A Retrospective, opening at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in October 2023.

Marisol, Bicycle Race, 1962. Wood, paint, graphite, cast plaster, cast metal, and plastic.  Overall: 66 1/2 x 56 in. (168.91 x 142.24 cm).  Abrams Family Collection.
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