Panel Session 16
"Tiptoeing Into the Closet: Que(e)rying, Building, and Accessing our Collections"
Moderator Ray Anne Lockard explained that this session was inspired by a discussion on ARLIS-L about the identification of gay and lesbian artists. Prompted by a student needing information for a project related to "A Day without Art," it reflected a wide range of opinion. Some didn't think artists could or should be labeled in this way; others, including the Moderator, thought it was necessary given the increasing importance of context in the "new art history." New studies, anthologies and exhibition catalogs are beginning to appear; some authors are beginning to include discussion of artists' sexuality. Our challenge is in building our collections of material on gay and lesbian artists when the artists are so seldom identified as such
In "Reading Between the Lines: The Case of Eleanor Raymond, Architect," Lisa Reitzes of the Department of Art History, Trinity University (San Antonio) indicated the importance of archival records covering the personal life of her subject of study, a Boston architect. Widely known in the 1920s to 1940s, she explored the International Style long before Gropius arrived in Massachusetts. Creating primarily domestic architecture (one likely reason for her current obscurity), Raymond was involved in a fifty-year "Boston marriage" with Ethel Power, editor of House Beautiful. Reitzes pointed out that no scholarship on Raymond called her a lesbian, nor is it likely that she defined herself as such. Labels, however, are less important than acknowledging Power's influence. A lesbian perspective allows one to look at the documentary evidence differently; someone less in tune with the possibilities of a lesbian connection might not be able to see the true character of the situation. An interesting facet of Raymond's career was the number of houses she designed for female patrons (most importantly Amelia Peabody) and all-female households (whom she and Power viewed as "families"). Power's "Gloucester Diary" covering 1930-1968 is an invaluable part of this documentary evidence, detailing not only the couple's domestic routine but also important information on artistic and cultural influences, relationships with clients, current commissions, and connections with other architects of the time. Reitzes expressed her appreciation for the unknown someone who recognized that it was important to include the Power diary in the Eleanor Raymond Archive at Harvard, since its absence would "impoverish our ability to understand her creative efforts."
Mimi Hernandez, Byrd Library, University of Arizona, shared her learning experience in discovering all the possible routes to comprehensive collection development in a challenging area in "Looking for Andy Warhol: Collection Development Resources on Gay/Lesbian and Bisexual Artists." What can one use beyond the 1994 Bibliography of Gay and Lesbian Artists put out by the College Art Associations's Gay and Lesbian Caucus, and information from useful organizations such as the CAA Caucus and GLIRT? One hurdle Hernandez had to overcome was use of the word "queer" in searches, since that was a term she had been raised to consider perjorative. Discussions with colleagues taught her this was now acceptable in certain contexts, and such consultation in general was invaluable. Encouraging faculty to send orders is especially important, since much gay and lesbian material is published by small presses which may not be picked up by standard collection development.
In searching for resources, electronic and otherwise, Hernandez used many of the same strategies she had previously used for ethnic artists, but this didn't always work. It was necessary to go outside the standard art indexes to such titles as the Alternative Press Index. Searching the Internet for gallery owners, bookstores and even artists' home pages yielded useful sources. Gay bookstores can be very useful, both local and on the Internet; one must also talk to vendors, peruse catalogs, get newsletters, talk to colleagues and faculty in the art department and elsewhere. Galleries, bookstores and museums can be useful for referral even if they don't have materials. It is especially important to be proactive, since many of the materials available are published by small presses and go out of print quickly. Don't let anyone tell you this material is not available, and certainly don't let anyone tell you it's not needed. Hernandez provided a list of print, electronic and organizational resources useful for collection development.
Al Willis and Ray Reece of the UCLA Arts Library treated us to a tag-team presentation "These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things: New Titles on Gay and Lesbian Art." Published in 1996 and 1997, these were selected materials relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual studies in art, architecture, motion pictures, television, and performing arts. The presentation was illustrated with slides and a bibliography of over fifty recent books, serials and web sites was distributed. Willis pointed out that the items presented represented a "small selection" of recent acquisitions and UCLA and was not even close to an exhaustive list. Reece reminded us that exactly what constitutes gay and lesbian art is a complex issue--is it art produced by lesbian and gay artists? Is it art that appeals to gays and lesbians regardless of its intent or the sexual orientation of the artist? Must it present some obvious homosexual reference? Leaving these questions for a future panel, the team presented a wide variety of books, from the obvious "art books": Damn Fine Art by New Lesbian Artists, Jasper Johns Privileged Information (for which Johns refused permission to reproduce his work), Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict (which has an entire section on his homosexuality), Keith Haring: Journals; to those which might be considered more "visual culture," such as Body Alchemy: Transsexual Portraits. Reece also discussed the inconsistent coverage of gay and lesbian art and artists in The Dictionary of Art. Reece and Willis were able to draw some general conclusions from their recent collection development efforts. Publishers are emphasizing photography to the detriment of other media; publishers emphasizing gay male artists appear to market more aggressively than those emphasizing lesbians; little is published on bisexuals as artists or as subjects.
Sherman Clarke, Head of Original Cataloging, Bobst Library, New York University, also considered the question of defining the gay or lesbian artist in "If Anonymous Was a Woman, Who's the Gay/Lesbian Artist?: Access to Bibliographic Information about Gay Art and Artists." How does one meet the needs generated by the current interest in the artist as well as the work? What does the user want when he or she requests information--a gay/lesbian artist, work with gay content, artists "outed" pre- or posthumously? Does the author of the material have to be gay as well? Clarke looked at the indexing and cataloging of material on gay and lesbian art and artists. He agreed with the previous presenters that The Dictionary of Art is inconsistent. There is no listing for "gay" in its index. Some gay, African American, etc. artists are covered in a group article but individual artists rarely get topic headings. The listing under "erotic art" includes David Hockney but the entry really discusses gay themes in general.
Library catalogs are limited by the time an item was cataloged and the interests of that time; the catalog can't have everything. Is it really the place of the cataloger to identify all possible categories attached to an artist, e. g. an African American lesbian regional artist? The Library of Congress Subject Headings are getting better all the time in making cross-references (but not as good as the AAT). Recently LC headings have been added for Gay erotic art and Lesbian erotic art. The Art Index yielded a few items on gay artists, a lot on women artists, but no cross-references from one to the other. Although it generally uses the inverted form in headings, somehow "Women artists" slipped in. BHA lists nothing under "gay" but "art and homosexuality" had many references, some to imdividual artists. A known article on gay art had a lengthy list of attached subject headings which tended to be very broad. the Avery index uses "homosexuality" rather than "gay" also. Clarke concluded that successful searches take into account the prejudices of the databases. Our principal role is to be as unbiased as possible in listening to the user, and to contribute good cataloging and our knowledge of sources.
Questions that followed the presentations gave Clarke the opportunity to remark that he hadn't intended to be that discouraging about catalogs, and noted that Hernandez had seemed to use keywords more than subject headings. "Research is additive," and one is not going to find everything in the catalog. Flexibility is necessary. Willis agreed this was an important point; that it was best to start with reference books and then go to the catalog.
In response to a query about the influence of sexual identity on architecture, Reitzes concluded it was on a case-by-case basis, depending on the demographics of the clientele and cultural context. Asked whether Raymond consciously chose domestic architecture, she responded in the affirmative. Women architects of the time were pigeonholed into domestic architecture, and some reacted against it. Others, like Raymond, embraced it--partly because of her training with Henry Atherton Frost, partly because of a regional focus on domestic architecture.
A question about the perspective of straight bibliographers collecting in this area generated an interesting discussion. One audience member said it was just part of the ongoing attempt to improve one's collection by collecting in a vital area. Hernandez said that it was necessary to include such materials if one were building a research-level collection in art. She had experienced "some rumblings" but that happened in other areas too (such as religion). Some potential problems that were raised were complaints from technical services or other staff who were uncomfortable with the more graphic material, or of items disappearing during processing, presumably because staff liked them too much. Willis expressed the view that straight librarians tended to rely more on mainstream sources and approval plans. Gays tended to be more knowledgeable about more obscure sources and "gray literature," but acquiring such familiarity required a level of involvement in the gay world that a straight bibliographer might be less able or willing to undertake. Willis announced that the Tom of Finland Foundation Bookshop will do approval plans with libraries, but they provide primarily gay male erotic art. Clarke asked people to send interesting citations to him or Lockard for the College Art Association newsletter.
Edith L. Crowe
San Jose State University file://localhost/C:/PROFREE/EDIEWEB/GENERALfirstname.lastname@example.org