Art After Stonewall, 1969–1989
When the New York Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, few would have predicted that the night’s events would change the course of American history. Fifty years later, the mainstreaming of gay, lesbian, and trans identity; the recognition of HIV/AIDS as a public health emergency; the opening of popular culture to queer stories and perspectives; the growing acceptance of gender self-determination; and above all, the 2015 Supreme Court decision on marriage equality are among the many achievements of the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement.
Yet the legacy of Stonewall is not limited to these milestones, and remains ongoing and open-ended. Queer people of color and trans communities continue to struggle against social and political marginalization, and poor and working-class voices remain underrepresented in mainstream LGBTQ politics and culture. In spite of its many successes, the movement for queer liberation has lost none of its urgency a half-century later.
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the uprisings, Art after Stonewall, 1969–1989 is a long-awaited and groundbreaking survey that features over 200 works of art and related visual materials exploring the impact of the LGBTQ liberation movement on visual culture. Presented in two parts—at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art and New York University’s Grey Art Gallery — the exhibition features artworks by openly LGBTQ artists such a Vaginal Davis, Louise Fishman, Nan Goldin, Lyle Ashton-Harris, Barbara Hammer, Holly Hughes, Greer Lankton, Robert Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie, Joan Snyder and Andy Warhol.
The exhibition is curated by artist and art historian Jonathan Weinberg, currently a critic at the Yale School of Art, in concert with Tyler Cann, Columbus Museum of Art (CMA)’s Head of Exhibitions and Curator of Contemporary Art, and Drew Sawyer, Curator of Photography at the Brooklyn Museum.
“Art after Stonewall resists systematic classifications or traditional notions of what is a work of art. Crucial queer cultural practices were created beyond the institutions of the art world,” observes curator Jonathan Weinberg. “Cutting across disciplines and hierarchies of media and taste, this exhibition mixes performance, photographs, painting, sculpture, film clips, video, and music with historic documents and images taken from magazines, newspapers, and television.”
The Stonewall Uprisings, in historian Martin Duberman’s words, “are now generally taken to mark the birth of the modern gay and lesbian political movement… As such, ‘Stonewall’ has become an empowering symbol of global proportions.”
Much has been written on the impact of the LGBTQ movement on American society and yet, 50 years after Stonewall, key artists in that story and their works are little known. Art after Stonewall brings together an unprecedented number of artists and activists in dialogue with LGBTQ issues. Art after Stonewall juxtaposes works—many of which elude categorization—and music with historical documents and images taken from magazines, newspapers, and television. In fact, the ambition and scope of the exhibition is so grand, it is presented across two New York venues, loosely divided chronologically. The presentation at Leslie-Lohman Museum concentrates on work from the first decade after the events of Stonewall, and the Grey Art Gallery focuses on the second decade.
“We believe that shows like Art after Stonewall play an important role in bringing visibility to our communities, expanding the understanding of the history of our city, and empowering newer generations of queer individuals to continue to fight for LGBTQ civil rights. Our collaboration with NYU’s Grey Art Gallery allows us to expand the reach of the exhibition’s message beyond our community as LGBTQ History is New York history,” says Gonzalo Casals, Executive Director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum.
Art after Stonewall is organized in seven sections. The first, Coming Out, explores how post-Stonewall LGBTQ artists addressed the imperative to reject hiding their sexual identity. Sexual Outlaws extends the concept of visibility to works of art that radically challenge mainstream concepts of decorum and decency, considering artworks with blatant sexual content from a new vantage point.
Inspired by Audre Lorde’s eponymous 1983 essay, The Uses of the Erotic examines how LGBTQ artists re-conceptualized both sex and the sensual. Consistent with Lorde’s view that women’s sense of the erotic is not defined by genital contact, artworks in this section convey a body-like physicality and sensuality.
Gender and Body reveals how cross-dressing and gender-bending influenced art of the 1970s and 80s, and features works by artists who employed gender as performance as they negotiated a new world with more fluid identities and sexualities. Things Are Queer explores how the concept of queerness was developed as a way to resist categorizing people as straight or gay, female or male. If Stonewall represented liberation and the imperative to come out, new generations of LGBTQ artists were increasingly suspicious of categories.
AIDS and Activism observes how an epidemic that was initially viewed as a disease of homosexuals affected the gay community, artistic communities, and the world in general. The works in the final section We’re Here celebrate how, by the end of the 1980s, LGBTQ people had permeated and influenced all aspects of everyday life: queerness could no longer be marginalized in American culture.
The exhibition opens in New York City at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University (April 24–July 20, 2019) and Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (April 24–July 21, 2019), before being presented at The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami, Florida (September 14, 2019–January 6, 2020), and the Columbus Museum of Art (February 14–May 17, 2020) in Columbus, Ohio.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated 300-page catalogue with essays by more than 20 established and emerging scholars and artists, including Anna Conlan, Andrew Durbin, Harmony Hammond, Richard Meyer, Alpesh Patel, Flavia Rando, Christopher Reed, Chris Vargas, and Margaret Rose Vendryes. The catalogue is published by Rizzoli Electa.
Featured image: Diana Davies, Untitled (Marsha P. Johnson Hands Out Flyers For Support of Gay Students at N.Y.U.), c. 1970, digital print, 11 x 14 in. © The New York Public Library/Art Resource, New York. Photo: Diana Davies
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