Discussion by Jonathan Katz, co-curator of “Hide/Seek” and Chair of the Visual Studies Doctoral Program at SUNY-Buffalo.

Burgess Collins was trained as an atomic scientist but left the field because of his opposition to nuclear weapons. Turning to art in the late 1940s, he became an important figure in the San Francisco cultural scene. The Mouse’s Tale is among the first explicit visual expressions of homosexuals as a minority group, rather than simply as a "perversion." Jess (Collins’s pseudonym) depicts the "heterosexual majority" as a group of sneering clowns that forms a noose as it issues a verdict against the homosexual minority before their "trial" even begins. He cites the words from Alice in Wonderland and its looking-glass world, in which things become their opposite: "I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury. . . . I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death." The minority becomes a monstrous jumble of splayed limbs and pinup men who flex their muscles under-and against-the condemning eyes of mother and priest.

Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture was on view at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, from October 30 through February 13, 2011.

For more on the exhibit, visit the exhibit website at: http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/hideseek .

Jess (Burgess Collins) (1923-2004) Collage: gelatin silver prints, magazine reproductions, and gouache on paper, 1951-54 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; gift of Fredric P. Snowden


You May Also Like