Queer Space

Aaron Betsky, Author
Aaron Betsky, Author William Morrow & Company $27.5 (240p) ISBN 978-0-688-14301-5
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
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A San Francisco-based architectural journalist and sometime guest professor at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Betsky (Building Sex) offers a look at the way gay architects create what he calls queer space. This is, he says, ""useless, amoral, and sensual space that lives only in and for experience. It is a space of spectacle, consumption, dance and obscenity. It is a misuse or deformation of a place."" That's the theory, but Betsky's rather superficial book fails to make a convincing case. He lumps the diverse architects Louis Sullivan and Ralph Adams Cram and the decorator Cecil Beaton together because they liked to sleep with men. He fails to explain how, if gay architects Bruce Goff and Philip Johnson created ""queer space,"" the queerest and most campy spaces in modern architecture--Morris Lapidus's Miami hotels--were produced by a heterosexual architect. The queer-space approach is also unconvincing when applied to the few lesbian architects of note, and it is insufficient to call Philip Johnson's skyscrapers ""phallic,"" as what architect's skyscrapers are not? Betsky unfortunately relies on big, misleading pronouncements: gay love was ""honored or merely assumed in most civilizations""; Christians ""did not care for the body at all""--a statement disproven by the example of Saint Sebastian he includes. He also makes smaller errors such as calling the repository of obscene literature at the Bibliotheque Nationale ""The Heavens"" when in fact it is called ""Hell."" This is an exciting, thought-provoking subject that deserves more careful and considered treatment. (Apr.)
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