Gertrude Stein and the Others of American Modernism

Tirza True Latimer is Associate Professor and Chair of the Graduate Program in Visual and Critical Studies, California College of the Arts. She guest-curated (with Wanda M. Corn) the exhibition “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” recently shown at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.  

Queer friendship circles, like the ones that formed around Gertrude Stein in the early twentieth century, played a pivotal role in the incubation of modernism and its propagation on American terrain. Stein’s network consisted largely of art world figures who shared sexual as well as aesthetic affinities. They honed practices (such as portraiture) and initiated trends (such as neo-romanticism) that celebrated their sentimental and artistic connections. They exchanged all manner of tributes: photographs, paintings, collages, word portraits, and musical compositions. They produced collective works and undertook interdisciplinary efforts--neither typically referenced in histories of modernism. For instance, the 1934 opera Four Saints in Three Acts--composed by Virgil Thomson to Stein’s libretto, choreographed by Frederick Ashton, and performed by a Harlem chorus resplendent in Florine Stettheimer’s costumes--has received little consideration as an important modernist event, despite the production’s radical aesthetics and widespread influence on the American artistic scene. Such initiatives, like the artists who brought them to fruition, might be described as the “Others of American Modernism.” Bringing this focus, which reveals the operation of alternate sexual economies in the twentieth-century American cultural arena, expands our understanding of modernism’s modes of production and diffusion, its historical narration, and its legacies.
This will be an audio-visually supported talk of about 45 minutes, immediately followed by a moderated Q&A session.

Moderator and Organizer:  
Dr. Petra Dierkes-Thrun
Department of Comparative Literature

Tuesday, February 14, 2012. 3:00 PM.
Stanford Humanities Center, Levinthal Hall (Map)
General Public
Lecture / Reading
Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages; the Comparative Literature Department; the Program in Feminist Studies; the Art and Art History Department; the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts; and the Stanford Humanities Center

Free and open to the public


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