Inside, though, it was beautiful - Camden Art Centre

Camden Art Centre presents a day of academic, artistic and curatorial reflections on the life and work of Forrest Bess, concluding with a screening of Chuck Smith’s celebrated film, Key to the Riddle.

Contributors include: Martin Clark, Caspar Heinemann, Cyle Metzger, Chuck Smith, Archie Squire and Mark Turner.

A limited-edition publication to mark the exhibition and this event will be published in the new year. Featuring contributions by each of the participants, it will be available to pre-order on the day of the event.

Schedule Contributors


Artist’s Studio

1.00-2.00 pm:
Audiences invited to visit the galleries, and peruse the Forrest Bess exhibition.

2.00-2.30 pm:
Out of the Blue
An introduction by Martin Clark, director at Camden Art Centre 

2.30-3.15 pm:
Abstracting Nature: Forrest Bess and the Idea of Queer Camouflage
Mark W. Turner 

This talk thinks about Bess’s life and work in queer ways, seeing him as a disruptively in-between figure who raises questions about legibility and what it means to see and be seen. I explore Bess’s experience and trauma in the US Army to suggest ways his experiments in camouflage help us reflect on his queer life and radical thinking.

3.15-3.30 pm:

3.30-4.15 pm:
Void Thoughts: Forrest Bess’ Nuclear ‘Primitivisms’
Archie Squire

This talk explores the recurring juxtapositions of early humankind with the Atomic Age in Forrest Bess’s art and writings to suggest that the symbol of the ‘pseudo-hermaphrodite’ signalled for Bess not only a post-binary potentiality but also a post-apocalyptic one.

4.15-5.00 pm:
Deep Cuts: Transgender History in American Art after WWII
Cyle Metzger

In this presentation, Metzger argues that––when read through materials the collections of the Archives of American Art as well as histories of sexology––Bess’s paintings importantly recall non-binary approaches to sex in early twentieth-century European sexology; link histories of homosexuality, transsexuality, and intersex medicine; and forecast contemporary non-binary approaches to sex within transgender and intersex healthcare.

5.00-5.15 pm:

5.15-6.00 pm:
Caspar Heinemann

Unforbidding the Impossible is a short attempt to grasp an idea of a mystical aesthetics as a making visible the impossibility of representation, via Forrest Bess, Jewish theology, and an upside-down Mondrian.

6.00-7.10 pm:
Forrest Bess: Key to the Riddle
dir. by Chuck Smith

A screening on the life and work of Forrest Bess, with an introduction from the director, Chuck Smith.



Martin Clark is Director of Camden Art Centre and curator of Forrest Bess: Out of the Blue. Previously Director of Bergen Kunsthall, Artistic Director of Tate St Ives and Curator at Arnolfoni, Bristol, over the last 20 years Clark has organised more than 80 exhibitions with British and international artists, as well as group shows including: The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and the Cosmic Tree (2020), Up, Down,Top, Bottom, Strange and Charm (2016), The Noing Uv It (2015), The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in British Art (2009) and Pale Carnage (2007). He writes widely on contemporary art and artists, and in 2023 will sit on the Turner Prize Jury.

Caspar Heinemann’s practice spans sculpture, poetry, essay, drawing, and theatre. His work is concerned with the politics of land, occultism, folk revivalism, and sexual countercultures. He is interested in the formal qualities of earnestness, brattiness, obliqueness, religiosity, generosity, and rattan furniture. He is an artist and writer living in Glasgow. His solo exhibitions have been held at Cell Project Space, London; Outpost Gallery, Norwich; Almanac, London; and Kevin Space, Vienna. He has a forthcoming solo exhibition with Cabinet, London in 2022. He makes theatre in collaboration with Alex Margo Arden, and his first poetry collection Novelty Theory was published in 2019 by The 87 Press.

Cyle Metzger is an Assistant Professor of Art in Residence (Art History)  and Coordinator of Galleries, Exhibitions, and Collections at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. His title will change to Assistant Professor of Art History in the 2023-2024 academic year following a promotion to a tenure-track position. Cyle received his PhD in Art History with a minor in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Stanford University in 2021. He earned an MA in the History of Art from the University of California, Riverside in 2015 and an MFA in interdisciplinary studio art from the Mount Royal School of Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010. He graduated from Bennington College in 2008 with a BA in Liberal Arts. His research focuses on transgender histories of art. His current book project–Deep Cuts: Transgender History in US-American Art since WWII–argues that transgender artists and artists who transgress binary gender ideologies are not peripheral actors in the history of American art but have been part of some of its most recognized moments, movements, and collections since World War II.
Metzger’s recent article “Envisioning Non-Binary Gender: The Art of Forrest Bess” appears in the spring 2022 issue of the Archives of American Art Journal. He co-edited the August 2020 issue of the Journal of Visual Culture titled “New Work in Transgender Art and Visual Culture Studies,” and wrote the introductory essay “Prismatic Views: A Look at the Growing Field of Transgender Art and Visual Culture Studeis” with Dr. Kirstin RIngelberg.

Chuck Smith is a filmmaker, TV producer, and writer who has produced documentaries and TV series for National Geographic, Discovery, CBS News, and many others. His films include Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground (2019) and Forrest Bess: Key to the Riddle (1999). The Bess film was turned into a book and published in 2013 by PowerHouse Books. Smith’s other independent films and interviews can be found on his YouTube Channel ‘ChuckSmithNYC’ and on Vimeo.

Archie Squire is a curator based in London.

Mark Turner is Professor of English at King’s College London where he teaches and researches Anglo-American queer cultures. He has been working on Forrest Bess and his gallerist Betty Parsons for several years.