Public Bodies Private Parts – Part 2

June 1 – 2, 2012


As part of its contribution to Whitney Biennial 2012, Artists Space presents the second part of the symposium Public Bodies, Private Parts. Taking as its starting point instances in which Biennial artists have revisited and re-presented transgressive biographies – in particular the inclusion of the work of Forrest Bess overseen by Robert Gober, and the research into the notebooks of Tatsumi Hijikata within Richard Hawkin’s work – this weekend of talks and screenings considers the overlap between artistic production, the representation of desire, and notions of perversion.

Secret Historian
Justin Spring on Samuel Steward
Friday, June 1, 7pm

Samuel Morris Steward (1909-1993), also known as Phil Andros, Phil Sparrow (and many other pseudonyms), was a poet, novelist, and university professor who left the world of academia to became a tattoo artist and pornographer. A friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and later a collaborator with Alfred Kinsey and his Institute for Sex Research, he maintained throughout his life extensive secret diaries, journals and statistics of his sex life. His published writing ranged from essays and novels, to homo-erotica and a social history of tattooing.
Across the strands of multiple assumed identities, Steward’s biography forms a rare account of unrepressed gay life in the middle decades of the 20th Century, Kinsey’s influence encouraging him to fuse the compartmentalized aspects of his life through the detailed recording, and embracing of sexual tendencies and desires. Having died in obscurity, the extent of Steward’s personal archive has only become apparent in the last decade, through the research of biographer Justin Spring. His presentation at Artists Space will address the life and work of Samuel Steward, and the counter-narrative his archive gives of sexual expression.

Inside and Outside: Forrest Bess's Queer Life
Mark Turner on Forrest Bess
With a screening of Ari Marcopolous and Chuck Smith's Key to the Riddle (2000)
Saturday, June 2, 7pm

Robert Gober’s curation of work by the artist Forrest Bess (1911-1977) at the Whitney Biennial 2012, presents paintings alongside documents and images related to Bess’ theories around the uniting of the male and female within his own body. In the early 1960s Bess performed operations on his own genitalia, turning himself into a pseudo-hermaphrodite. He documented these operations and regularly wrote to friends, art critics and academics detailing his theories that fused the alchemical, with Jungian philosophy and Aboriginal ritual. In correspondence with his New York gallerist Betty Parsons he underlined a desire to exhibit his abstract-expressionist paintings alongside his medical theories, a desire that was never realized in his lifetime, but that is executed in the Whitney installation.

Mark Turner, Professor of English at Kings College, London, has over recent years pursued research into the Betty Parsons Gallery, and the artists who exhibited there. This has led to a particular focus on Forrest Bess, his theories and their visibility in relation to his identity as an artist. Turner’s presentation of this research will follow a screening of Key to the Riddle, director Ari Marcopoulos and Chuck Smith's 2000 documentary on the life and work of Bess.

Samuel Steward

Forrest Bess