queer family romance and collections of visual culture

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

17.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

3 naked men in front of a stained glass window, two holding hands, one holding a flower and a staff; a dressed onlooker is to the left
Elisàr von Kupffer (1872-1942), Painting of same-sex union with self-portraits, c.1910, now lost (probably destroyed in Berlin c. 1935). From Magnus Hirschfeld, Sexualwissenschaftlicher Bilderatlas zur Geschlechtskunde (Berlin and Vienna: Püttmann, 1932), 532.

Speaker(s): Whitney Davis (Professor of History & Theory of Ancient & Modern Art, University of California at Berkeley)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Professor Caroline Arscott

In the context of intense and divisive present-day debates about the juridical status of "queer families" (for example, in controversies about "gay marriage" in the USA), Davis broadens the discussion by recalling that queer families by definition often cannot be mediated in relations of biological kin, however fantasmatic (as claimed in the traditions of psychoanalysis), or even in relations of erotic and subcultural sociability, however proscribed in a dominant culture (as claimed in the traditions of gay-lesbian studies). By contrast, they can be mediated in complex extra-biological sociabilities. These include relations forged with subjects in the past or in other cultures simply by way of their representation or expression in historical works of art. Queer families, then, are as much a function of historical patrimonies imagined in queer culture as they are a function of juridical matrimonies (and cognate affiliations) licensed in dominant culture. In this talk, Davis explores certain collections of visual culture – collations of artworks assembled by queer men and women – as vehicles of what he calls "queer family romance," namely, the creative fiction of an alternate extra-biological family constituted wholly in aesthetic and cultural forms. In part the talk deals with the famous Freudian notion of family romance (the subject's unconscious fantasy of an alternate lineage) and in part with the nature of queer collections of visual culture. But its aim is to synthesize an account of queer family romance in collecting visual culture.

Whitney Davis is the author of many articles and reviews on prehistoric, ancient, early modern, modern, and contemporary art and visual culture and eight books, most recently Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond (Columbia University Press), Habitat: Massimo Vitali's Mammals (Steidl), and A General Theory of Visual Culture (Princeton University Press). His research combines art-historical analysis with inquiries into the history of aesthetics, sexology, philosophical psychology, and queer theory.

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