Abstract art is sometimes considered merely formal, and its reductive visual qualities are seen as a refusal of representation or a flight from subject matter. By contrast, this talk will examine how artists and critics have imbued abstraction with queer capacities, seeing it as a means to visualize unorthodox relations and forms. With its invention of new visual vocabularies, reductive visual art provides a resource for thinking about how bodies and relations can be imagined otherwise. A key theme will be the ways in which artists have responded to surveillance and the politics of visibility, and this talk will examine how abstraction has been used by artists to resist the ways in which the human form is categorized, marked, and stereotyped. The field of art history has a long tradition of debating the human form and its alternatives, and the study of abstract art and its theories can make a unique contribution to interdisciplinary conversations about the politics of queer and transgender representation.

David J. Getsy is Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the 2020-2021 Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies of the Freie Universität Berlin. His research focuses on queer and transgender histories of art and performance, and his books include Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (2015), Rodin: Sex and the Making of Modern Sculpture (2010), and an edited anthology of artists’ writing, Queer (2016).

In English
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Image credit © Elijah Burgher, A maiden will I die, 2011. Colored pencil on paper, 279 x 356mm. © Elijah Burgher, 2020.