Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display

University of Chicago Press
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Winner of the 29th annual Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Studies

All museums are sex museums. In Sex Museums, Jennifer Tyburczy takes a hard look at the formation of Western sexuality—particularly how categories of sexual normalcy and perversity are formed—and asks what role museums have played in using display as a technique for disciplining sexuality. Most museum exhibits, she argues, assume that white, patriarchal heterosexuality and traditional structures of intimacy, gender, and race represent national sexual culture for their visitors. Sex Museums illuminates the history of such heteronormativity at most museums and proposes alternative approaches for the future of public display projects, while also offering the reader curatorial tactics—what she calls queer curatorship—for exhibiting diverse sexualities in the twenty-first century.

Tyburczy shows museums to be sites of culture-war theatrics, where dramatic civic struggles over how sex relates to public space, genealogies of taste and beauty, and performances of sexual identity are staged. Delving into the history of erotic artifacts, she analyzes how museums have historically approached the collection and display of the material culture of sex, which poses complex moral, political, and logistical dilemmas for the Western museum. Sex Museums unpacks the history of the museum and its intersections with the history of sexuality to argue that the Western museum context—from its inception to the present—marks a pivotal site in the construction of modern sexual subjectivity.
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About the author

Jennifer Tyburczy is assistant professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jan 11, 2016
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Pages
296
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ISBN
9780226315386
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / Museum Studies
History / General
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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‘Curate’ is now a buzzword applied to everything from music festivals to artisanal cheese. Inside the art world, the curator reigns supreme, acting as the face of high-profile group shows and biennials in a way that can eclipse and assimilate the contributions of individual artists. At the same time, curatorial studies programs continue to grow in popularity, and businesses are increasingly adopting curation as a means of adding value to content and courting demographics. Everyone, it seems, is a now a curator. But what is a curator, exactly? And what does the explosive popularity of curating say about our culture’s relationship with taste, labour and the avant-garde?

In this incisive and original study, critic David Balzer travels through art history and around the globe to explore the cult of curation – where it began, how it came to dominate museums and galleries, and how it was co-opted at the turn of the millennium as the dominant mode of organizing and giving value to content. At the centre of the book is a paradox: curation is institutionalized and expertise-driven like never before, yet the first independent curators were not formally trained, and any act of choosing has become ‘curating.’ Is the professional curator an oxymoron? Has curation reached a sort of endgame, where its widespread fetishization has led to its own demise?

David Balzer has contributed to publications including the Believer, Modern Painters, Artforum.com, and The Globe and Mail, and is the author of Contrivances, a short-fiction collection. He is currently Associate Editor at Canadian Art magazine. Balzer was born in Winnipeg and currently resides in Toronto, where he makes a living as a critic, editor and teacher.
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