In the decades preceding the Stonewall riots—in the wake of the 1948 publication of Alfred Kinsey’s controversial report on male sexuality and in the midst of a cold war culture of suspicion and paranoia—discussions of homosexuality within the New York art world necessarily circulated via gossip and rumor. Between You and Me explores this informal, everyday talk and how it shaped artists’ lives, their work, and its reception. Revealing the “trivial” and “unserious” aspects of the postwar art scene as key to understanding queer subjectivity, Gavin Butt argues for a richer, more expansive concept of historical evidence, one that supplements the verifiable facts of traditional historical narrative with the gossipy fictions of sexual curiosity.
Focusing on the period from 1948 to 1963, Butt draws on the accusations and denials of homosexuality that appeared in the popular press, on early homophile publications such as One and the Mattachine Review, and on biographies, autobiographies, and interviews. In a stunning exposition of Larry Rivers’s work, he shows how Rivers incorporated gossip into his paintings, just as his friend and lover Frank O’Hara worked it into his poetry. He describes how the stories about Andy Warhol being too “swish” to be taken seriously as an artist changed following his breakthrough success, reconstructing him as an asexual dandy. Butt also speculates on the meanings surrounding a MoMA curator’s refusal in 1958 to buy Jasper Johns’s Target with Plaster Casts on the grounds that it was too scandalous for the museum to acquire. Between You and Me sheds new light on a pivotal moment in American cultural production as it signals new directions for art history.
List of Illustrations ix
Introduction: Gossip: The Hardcore of Art History? 1
1. The American Artist in a World of Suspicion 23
2. Idol Gossip: Myths of Genius and the Making of Queer Worlds 51
3. The Gift of Gab: Camp Talk and the Art of Larry Rivers 74
4. Dishing on the Swish, or, the “Inning” of Andy Warhol 106
5. Bodies of Evidence: Queering Disclosure in the Art of Jasper Johns 136
Afterword: Flirting with an Ending 163
Gavin Butt is Professor of Fine Art at Northumbria University, author of Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 1948–1963, also published by Duke University Press, and coeditor of Post-Punk Then and Now.
“Between You and Me is a brilliant read that flirtatiously winks and kisses its way through the New York art world of the postwar period, turning our favorite icons inside out and back in again. It’s all in the gossip. Larry Rivers painted a ‘visual gossip column’ and was described by Frank O’Hara as a ‘demented telephone,’ but it takes a smart flirt (the best kind) like Gavin Butt to see gossip’s methodological promise. Taking gossip into his own mouthy hands, Butt slurs the studios of Rivers, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol with their own reckless talk: kisses turn into smacks, and winks into home runs. (Between you and me, that’s how I like it.)”—Carol Mavor, author of Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden
“Between You and Me is boldly original and beautifully written. Gavin Butt renders a rich (which is to say dishy) description of a queer past that might enable us to imagine a queer futurity. His book will stand as a lasting contribution to queer theory and visual cultural studies and, perhaps more importantly, serve as a political and methodological wake-up call to the discourse of art history.”—José Esteban Muñoz, coeditor of Pop Out: Queer Warhol
“Queers do sing, if only in each other's ears. In his new Queer Studies book Between You and Me, art historian Gavin Butt . . . delves into the rampant gay social scene that accompanied the Pop Art era, in which so many pivotal figures were as gay as periwinkle pasta.”
~Roberto Friedman, Bay Area Reporter
“Between You and Me is a nimble book—balancing a self-consciousness about what it means to work on the most ephemeral of subjects, what it means to deploy gossip as a critical strategy, and how gossip figures in both the content and the form of art from this period. The result is a portrait of the evolution of new kinds of artistic personas, and a map for producing new methodologies for writing about them.”
~Jennifer Doyle, American Quarterly