Theses Doctoral

Displaying Queerness: Art and Identity, 1989-1993

Morgan, Nicholas

The years between 1989 and 1993 witnessed a sea change in the fabric of contemporary artistic practice, with a sudden embrace of previously marginalized identities on the part of museums, galleries and other institutions. This dissertation traces how sexuality, race and gender came to be placed at the center of discussions of contemporary art, and examines the ways in which artists responded to the sudden embrace of marginal identities on the part of museums and other art institutions in the early 1990s by harnessing the potential of this newly increased visibility, and also by developing strategies to offset the spectacularization of their identities. In particular, I focus on the collision between this new institutional desire for difference and the emergence of a notion of queerness that is specifically anti-identitarian and thus in conflict with the imperative to produce art about one’s identity. The dissertation is structured around four exhibitions that each played a crucial role in establishing this reorganization of the art world. This sequence of exhibitions narrates the larger structural shift through gradual steps, but each chapter also serves as a case study, since distinct notions of power emerge from the individual exhibitions. Tied into these divergent, sometimes incompatible understandings of power were competing understandings of the ways in which identity could be engaged politically and aesthetically. In particular, I focus on how a melancholic approach to queer subjectivity was materialized in art at the time, on the resurgence of documentary practices, on psychoanalytically inflected artistic interventions into museum spaces, and on the emergence of new forms of artistic critique.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Alberro, Alexander
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 14, 2020