April 21, 2023 6:00 PM to 8:00 PMUptown Campus
by Jennifer Sichel, Assistant Professor, University of Louisville
In the 1960s in New York City, critics Gene Swenson and Jill Johnston reinvented art criticism as a capacious practice, one that spills over into poetry, protest, and performance. Rejecting appeals to intellectual and moral authority invoked by dominant critics of the period, they developed idiosyncratic, energetic forms of criticism that forged new ground, politically and aesthetically. Unembarrassed, and unafraid to get things wrong, Swenson and Johnston stepped into the fray, refusing to cordon off the intensity of life from their artistic production. For both critics, this entailed figuring out how to live a homosexual life and produce queer work within an artworld that was hostile to queer ways of feeling and of being. Their writings and actions fall between genres and do not fit neatly into received art historical accounts of the period. Through in-depth archival research, I recuperate Swenson and Johnston’s queer practices. My lecture will trace how Swenson and Johnston changed the course of artmaking in New York City in the 60s, as they refused norms of disciplined writing and authoritative voice. I excavate how they reimagined sexuality and assembled ways of being unmanageable and disintegrated in a world that tended to demand clarity and punish difference.