March 08, 2012

A Queer Tour of the Permanent Collection: Introduction

A few members of the “Queer Modernism” class at California College of the Arts, Fall 2011.

Last fall, I taught a course called “Queer Modernism” at California College of the Arts. We focused on marginalized schools such as magic realism and neo-romanticism; figurative practices such as portraiture; queer inflections of abstraction; creative platforms such as ballet and opera–all of which have been instrumental in forging modern sexual as well as artistic communities. In part due to biases against dissident sexualities and unconventional gender performances–sometimes overlaid with biases against racial difference–these areas remain recessive within dominant histories of American Modernism. Yet they form a culturally significant constellation: in essence, a queer matrix of 20th-century American art.

As a class project, my students traced a queer itinerary through the permanent collection at SFMOMA, culminating in a queer audiotour of the museum’s holdings.  Each student first wrote an introduction to queer art at SFMOMA, explaining the interest of our queer intervention: How does looking at art through a queer lens show familiar works in a new light and, more generally, change our understanding of modernism and its canons?

We used the term “queer” loosely. It could apply to any work that lends itself to queer interpretation, contributes to a critique of sexual/social/artistic norms, celebrates homoeroticism, refuses a fixed identity, participates in the establishment of a dissident cultural lineage, and/or subverts gendered power structures. Sampling the introductions reveals the rich variety of approaches to Queering SFMOMA that this exercise engendered.

Kaitlin Pelto

Micah Rivera

Lael Seltzer

Susannah Rea-Downing

Tracy Piper

Sarah Zehr

Based on focused research, each student ultimately produced an audio stop illuminating one work of art from a queer angle. Posts in this series incorporate audio stops on individual artists and artworks to offer queer readings of the museum’s rich holdings. Artists to whom this tour pays tribute include Agnes Martin, Claude Cahun, Jess, Robert Gober, Janine Antoni


Comments (4)

  • cool stuff

  • Hi Tirza:

    So glad to see you’ve been contributing to OpenSpace!

    We met at the Feminist Art History Conference at American University and I recall discussing this exciting project with you. Looking forward to hearing more excerpts!


  • Tirza True Latimer says:

    Will do!

  • I enjoyed listening to these audio clips. Would you please invite any of your queer students to share any future projects or artwork on OutArtists. There they can connect with other queer artists.

Leave a comment

Please tell us what you think. We really love conversation, and we’re happy to entertain dissenting opinions. Just no name-calling, personal attacks, slurs, threats, spam, and the like, please. Those ones we reserve the right to remove.

Sign Up

Join our newsletter for infrequent updates on new posts and Open Space events.
  • Required, will not be published

Dear Visitor,
We regret to inform you that Open Space is no longer active. It was retired at the end of 2021. We sincerely appreciate your support and engagement over the years.

For your reference, we encourage you to read past entries or search the site.

To stay informed about future ventures or updates, please follow us at

Thank you for being a part of our journey!