- Eve, Not Edie: The Queering of Andy Warhol
In a year that marks the eleventh anniversary of his death, Andy Warhol—artist, filmmaker, icon—continues as a cultural force to be reckoned with. His profile within the Pop culture imaginary swelled in 1996 and 1997, fueled by the release of three films: Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat, and Susanne Ofteringer’s Nico Icon. (Screen bios of Edie Sedgwick and Holly Woodlawn are also, reportedly, on their way.) Warhol’s celebrated serial-image technique continues to be appropriated in dozens of ways throughout contemporary graphic design. The end of the century will undoubtedly spawn many more testimonials to the Warhol oeuvre, such as the one offered in a 1997 Chicago Tribune piece, which names Warhol as one of the 20th century’s five artists “that anyone seeking an understanding of modern and contemporary art will have to come up against and, if possible, accept” (G5).
Arts scholars and academics have come up against Warhol many, many times prior to the publication of Pop Out: Queer Warhol. Whereas 1996 constituted a mini-revival of popular interest in the artist, 1989 (the year of MoMA’s massive retrospective) represents the most recent revival of widespread critical interest. That year saw an explosion of publications on Warhol: not just the commercially accessible portraits by David Bourdon and Victor Bockris (and Warhol himself, via his Diaries), but critical anthologies from Michael O’Pray, Gary Garrels, and Kynaston McShine. Add the stalwart Warhol texts by John Coplans, Rainer Crone, Peter Gidal, Stephen Koch, Carter Ratcliff, et al., and there can be little doubt as to the sheer tenacity of Warhol scholarship.
So, one may reasonably wonder: do we really need more critical and analytical treatises on the work and world of Andy Warhol? Pop Out answers with a resounding “yes.” The book’s subtitle—Queer Warhol—announces a political agenda made explicit in its introduction: Pop Out’s collected essays, according to editors Jennifer Doyle, Jonathan Flatley, and José Esteban Muñoz, “call out and combat the degaying of Warhol” (2). The term “degaying” comes from Simon Watney, whose inaugural article “Queer Andy” condemns the critical tradition (exemplified by many of the previously named texts) that “refus[es] to engage with the most glaringly obvious motif in Warhol’s career—his homosexuality” (21). Doyle, Flatley, and Muñoz argue for the recovery of a queer “social or symbolic context” (the context of Pop Art) in order to understand and appropriate Warhol and Popism (7). Recent analyses have largely failed at this task.
Watney perhaps exaggerates the denial of sex (“let alone queer sex”) and sexuality by critics of the Warhol films (20); as Doyle et al. rightly acknowledge, film scholarship has done more to foreground the sexiness of Warhol’s art than any other critical discipline (16n). But Watney’s larger point is well taken by Pop Out’s twelve contributing essayists, each of whom sets out to reclaim Warhol as a decidedly queer artist and cultural figure.
It would be a mistake, however, to equate a discursive “queer Warhol” with the real-life gay Warhol. While the artist’s homosexuality is the jumping-off point for a number of essays (most notably, Watney’s “Queer Andy,” Thomas Waugh’s “Cockteaser,” and Michael Moon’s “Screen Memories, or Pop Comes from the Outside”), part of Pop Out’s larger project is to complicate binarisms like “gay/straight.” This point comes through most eloquently in a passage in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s essay “Queer Performativity.” Queerness, for Sedgwick, does not simply equal “gayness,” although there is significant overlap. Rather, it is more productive to think of shyness and shame as primary indicators of queerness—which may or may not later manifest itself with regard to sexual orientation (138). Sedgwick locates the crucial site of the formation of a “shame-delineated place of identity” (138) within childhood; parenthetically, she remarks “on how frequently queer kids are queer before they’re gay” (137; original emphasis). Accordingly, the theme of queer childhood...