Between You and Me

Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 1948–1963

Between You and Me

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 48 photos (incl. 4 in color) Published: September 2005

Author: Gavin Butt

Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

In the decades preceding the Stonewall riots—in the wake of the 1948 publication of Alfred Kinsey’s controversial report on male sexuality and in the midst of a cold war culture of suspicion and paranoia—discussions of homosexuality within the New York art world necessarily circulated via gossip and rumor. Between You and Me explores this informal, everyday talk and how it shaped artists’ lives, their work, and its reception. Revealing the “trivial” and “unserious” aspects of the postwar art scene as key to understanding queer subjectivity, Gavin Butt argues for a richer, more expansive concept of historical evidence, one that supplements the verifiable facts of traditional historical narrative with the gossipy fictions of sexual curiosity.

Focusing on the period from 1948 to 1963, Butt draws on the accusations and denials of homosexuality that appeared in the popular press, on early homophile publications such as One and the Mattachine Review, and on biographies, autobiographies, and interviews. In a stunning exposition of Larry Rivers’s work, he shows how Rivers incorporated gossip into his paintings, just as his friend and lover Frank O’Hara worked it into his poetry. He describes how the stories about Andy Warhol being too “swish” to be taken seriously as an artist changed following his breakthrough success, reconstructing him as an asexual dandy. Butt also speculates on the meanings surrounding a MoMA curator’s refusal in 1958 to buy Jasper Johns’s Target with Plaster Casts on the grounds that it was too scandalous for the museum to acquire. Between You and Me sheds new light on a pivotal moment in American cultural production as it signals new directions for art history.


Between You and Me is written in a clear and entertaining prose style. The author alternates between a masterful academic voice and a conspiratorial, confessional whisper in a manner that is rarely jarring. . . . While Between You and Me tells us little that is new about the relationships between the artists, curators, and critics it discusses, the book displays a startling freshness nonetheless. The book, at times, seems to echo the ‘homophile’ magazines that it examines—at the level of desire, through a shared campy sense of humor, and of course through its historical focus on queer personalities. Those magazines are a great pleasure to peruse; it’s the tremendous sense of a real conversation that gives them this quality, happening between subscribers and contributors miles apart as they forge a community together. Butt’s book also speaks across vast distances—here the less surmountable distance of time—however, and particularly through his retention of the period’s humor, he manages to carry on a conversation that this reader was glad to share.” — James Boaden, CAA Reviews

“[A] lively investigation of the epistemological implications of gossip and rumor. . . .” — Frazer Ward, GLQ

“[A]midst the kiss and tells, the rumours, innuendoes, cat fights, gossip and idle chit-chat, Gavin Butt provides a solid and unique slice of/ through history. In the open and public trials of perception innuendo, gossip and idle chit-chat are fluidly exchanged and are important currencies in the high stakes of the contemporary art world. Name-calling has always been a part of modern queer identity,
but, as Butt demonstrates, it can sometimes enhance one’s social standing and cultural significance.” — John Potvin, Art History

“[A]n important and ambitious self-proclaimed challenge to the ways we do art history in the academy. It does so in a tone that is frequently witty, playful and irreverent, which is to say ‘queer’. A book about the trivial, yet one that takes itself very seriously, presented entirely in parentheses (as if an inconsequential aside), yet claiming to be a weighty engagement with the dominant discourse of art history: in some ways this book is a brilliant and intriguing paradox.” — Satish Padiyar, Oxford Art Journal

“[An] engrossing account of how the entrenched gay art world collided with a conservative art establishment.” — Lewis Whittington, Gay & Lesbian Review

“Butt readily acknowledges that his methodology might give pause, but convinces us that without this pillow talk, the real story behind the making of modern art might never be told.” — Lewis Whittington, GLQ

“Easily accessible to art historians and non-scholars alike, Between You and Me’s performative interpretations of artistic and sexual identities through biographic remembrances and iconographic interrogations of art objects and gallery installations trouble the stability of verbal and visual evidence, critically examining the nature of what we consider to be useful evidence while expanding the term to include innuendo, rumor, and imprecise visual cues. Butt flirts with impropriety here, taking obvious
personal and scholarly pleasure in writing an account of mid-twentieth-century gossip that aggressively queers traditional art historical practice, forcing us to reconsider the ways in which we narrate history.” — Stefanie Snider, CLGH Newsletter

“Gossip, [Butt] notes, is conventionally thought to be slight because it is not serious.… Butt shows how much you can learn about recent American art by looking at the gossip associated with it.” — David Carrier, artUS

“Queers do sing, if only in each other's ears. In his new Queer Studies book Between You and Me, art historian Gavin Butt . . . delves into the rampant gay social scene that accompanied the Pop Art era, in which so many pivotal figures were as gay as periwinkle pasta.” — Roberto Friedman, Bay Area Reporter

"Anyone with a fascination for postwar modern American artists will revel in Butt's astutely original approach to relatively recent art history." — Richard Labonte, Q Syndicate

“Between You and Me is a nimble book—balancing a self-consciousness about what it means to work on the most ephemeral of subjects, what it means to deploy gossip as a critical strategy, and how gossip figures in both the content and the form of art from this period. The result is a portrait of the evolution of new kinds of artistic personas, and a map for producing new methodologies for writing about them.” — Jennifer Doyle, American Quarterly

Between You and Me is a brilliant read that flirtatiously winks and kisses its way through the New York art world of the postwar period, turning our favorite icons inside out and back in again. It’s all in the gossip. Larry Rivers painted a ‘visual gossip column’ and was described by Frank O’Hara as a ‘demented telephone,’ but it takes a smart flirt (the best kind) like Gavin Butt to see gossip’s methodological promise. Taking gossip into his own mouthy hands, Butt slurs the studios of Rivers, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol with their own reckless talk: kisses turn into smacks, and winks into home runs. (Between you and me, that’s how I like it.)” — Carol Mavor, author of Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden

Between You and Me is boldly original and beautifully written. Gavin Butt renders a rich (which is to say dishy) description of a queer past that might enable us to imagine a queer futurity. His book will stand as a lasting contribution to queer theory and visual cultural studies and, perhaps more importantly, serve as a political and methodological wake-up call to the discourse of art history.” — José Esteban Muñoz, coeditor of Pop Out: Queer Warhol


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gavin Butt is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the editor of After Criticism: New Responses to Art and Performance.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xii

Introduction: Gossip: The Hardcore of Art History? 1

1. The American Artist in a World of Suspicion 23

2. Idol Gossip: Myths of Genius and the Making of Queer Worlds 51

3. The Gift of Gab: Camp Talk and the Art of Larry Rivers 74

4. Dishing on the Swish, or, the “Inning” of Andy Warhol 106

5. Bodies of Evidence: Queering Disclosure in the Art of Jasper Johns 136

Afterword: Flirting with an Ending 163

Notes 167

Bibliography 189

Index 201
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3498-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3486-6
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