Picasso was planning to go to Rome with Jean Cocteau to work on the surrealist ballet Parade with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. He ran into Cocteau on the Blvd Montparnasse. “As we are going on a honeymoon together, let’s announce our honeymoon to Gertrude Stein,” Picasso suggested. They went next door to the Rue de Fleurus where Picasso said to Gertrude: “Meet my fiancée, we are leaving for Italy.”
The story (told by Cocteau in the documentary Autoportrait d’un Inconnu) implies that such a joke was very welcome at the Rue de Fleurus, a detail that feeds into my thesis –often discussed in this blog – of Gertrude and Alice’s highly liberal attitudes toward sex, in particular gay sex.
Interestingly, it is this aspect of Stein, author of exquisite erotic texts, the “queer” Stein, who seems to most inspire our present era and the present renewed interest in her that we see a bit everywhere (and majorly in San Francisco’s museums next month; see my previous posts). It is the aspect that allows the academic world to begin to overcome its notorious difficulties dealing with the language revolutionary. Queer Studies have opened a door where Stein can be embraced and a connection be explored that has mostly been fed by artists, poets, performers, writers outside, far outside academe.
When you look a little more closely at the programming that accompanies the big exhibitions in SF you will see what I mean. From Wayne Koestenbaum (The Queen’s Throat) to Terry Castle (The Apparitional Lesbian), gay and lesbian guest speakers participate in the lectures and panels. And a très queer performance artist like Kalup Linzy takes Stein’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts in hand…
It’s never too soon to look at the programming and mark your calendar. Here are some main coming attractions on the queer horizon:
“Gertrude Stein and Contemporary Queer Culture” at the Comtemporary Jewish Museum, on June 30th, at 7:30 pm. Tirza Latimer, co-curator of “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” and Stanford University professor Terry Castle will shed light on the topic and also keep an eye on Stein’s relationships with gay artists in the 20s and 30s.
“Queer Culture and Artists’ Circles” will be offered a cross the street, at SFMOMA, on June 4th, 4:30, a panel with Koestenbaum, performance artist Tammy Rae Carland and author Jonathan Katz. The panel coincides with the program Living Room, which explores “the function of the salon in supporting marginal or emerging ideas and practices”. We will have to wait and see how queer this one may get. In my personal translation (see my introduction to Gertrude Stein: In Words and Pictures) this would mean exploring how two lesbians subverted the good old European salon tradition: one of them, Alice, took on the role of the salon hostess, and Gertrude the role of the genius celebrated at the salon. Call it chuzpe. Call it genius.
Speaking of my book: you may find it on the air as part of the offerings of the KQED May pledge drive, paired with free tickets to the museum shows on Stein, Stein, Stein.
More about my own participation in the programming at both museums soon to come.