Arts & Culture

Andy Warhol, Gay Marriage, and Accountability

A few weeks ago I went to see the new Andy Warhol exhibit, "Warhol’s Jews," at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Though I’ve never cared for Warhol or his artwork– his refusal to truly speak about the themes … Read More

By / November 28, 2008

A few weeks ago I went to see the new Andy Warhol exhibit, "Warhol’s Jews," at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Though I’ve never cared for Warhol or his artwork– his refusal to truly speak about the themes of his work and apathetic political stance hardly excite the senses– I wanted to see what he’d done with such a highly charged theme. Not Jewish himself, Warhol thought the portraits (of 10 famous Jews including Sarah Bernhardt, Albert Einstein and Gertrude Stein) would sell well and gain much media attention, a fairly standard reason for creating work in his personal history. I went into the exhibition hoping to at least see a process I could attach to, a narrative of the creation of the work which would propel it from this purely fetishized pet project into a theoretical framework which challenged the way viewers perceived Jewish identity and stereotypes, or even classical portraiture. As far as process, all we really got was a list of famous Jews– some not even Jewish, but put on the list (and later crossed off) because of the "-stein" at the end of their surname– that had been compiled as prospects for the project. What the exhibit did make me think about was identity, interlocking oppressions, and our responsibilities to each other in the realm of human rights. As a queer man, Warhol never chose to connect the dots between the marginalization of queer artists, misogyny, racism or anti-Semitism. After the passing of Prop 8 this past election (and the following outright racism of the white, queer public throwing daggers at people of color for, according to statistics, voting predominantly yes on 8), I have to think more and more about how marginalized and oppressed communities view themselves in relation to each other. Much of the "No on 8" propaganda borrowed, without recognition, tactics and themes from the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, furthering the problem of a gay rights movement that has been historically racist. After the election, Dan Savage wrote a blog for The Stranger with the a call to arms that seemed to take a "we scratch your back, you scratch ours" approach: since queers voted for Obama, couldn’t people of color vote no on 8? This tactic, of course, completely excludes a critical look at the history of the gay rights movement and where its focus has been: on assimilating (white) queer people into the heterosexual mainstream, one whose building blocks are all those interlocking oppressions I’ve mentioned here already. This brings into question the whole importance of the gay marriage issue, and what it means today: is a key into a club founded on misogyny, homophobia, and racism one that the queer community wants to fight so valiantly for when we are in the midst of a global war, when there is little access to basic health care for so many, when our prisons are so disproportionately filled with men of color, when rent is sky high, when fear is the main course of most of our days? This is a jumping-off point, and one which I will be exploring more in upcoming blogs. Simultaneously occupying the space of "queer" and "Jewish" can be an exciting, powerful, radical force of change in both these communities if we choose to make it so. In upcoming weeks I’ll be posting interviews with queer Jewish artists and activists, as well as drawing connections between various facets of our identities that can interact in complex and playful ways.

Recommended reading: www.gayshamesf.org/archives.html (essays from Gay Shame SF, a radical queer activist community)