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A New Art Show Tracks Queer Life in Everyday Portraits

"We still struggle to overcome the outdated perception that our art is just about sex, when in fact our collection and our exhibitions range over the whole gamut of LGBTQ life."

What do gay people do when they’re not having sex? That’s the question the show, On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life, seeks to answer. “We particularly wanted to present works that were not overtly sexual, because we still struggle to overcome the outdated perception that our art is just about sex, when in fact our collection and our exhibitions range over the whole gamut of LGBTQ life,” says exhibition curator James Saslow.

Duncan Grant, Untitled. n.d., Oil on paper mounted on board, 29 x 20 in. Collection of Douglas Blair Turnbaugh.

The show, featuring over 70 works of portraiture, seeks to show both the nuances and universality of gay life. An untitled painting by Duncan Grant shows men playing basketball at night, Rink Foto’s photo Divine on the Loose shows a drag queen walking down the streets of the New York City, and Sage Sohier’s Doris and Debie with Doris’ Daughter Junyette depicts a domestic scene of a lesbian couple at home in Los Angeles. “It was exciting to give visual form to a community that was just emerging from total silence and visual absence, to provide images that documented and celebrated our new, open lives,” Saslow tells The Creators Project. “So this show was conceived as a celebration of the many artists, over the past century, who chose to record common, everyday experience.”

Robert Giard, Sunday Morning, 1989, Silver gelatin print, 14 x 14 in. Collection of Allen Ellenzweig. © Estate of Robert Giard, Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery.

There are also images that can be perceived as sexual in nature apart from the show. Cases in point: Robert Giard’s Sunday Morning of two nude men reading, and Andy Warhol’s Untitled (Halston “Drag Party” Invitation—model Victor Hugo) of two men dressed in drag, and Bill Costa’s The Bath (Homage to Paul Cadmus) depicts two nude figures bathing. But the show challenges the viewer to look beyond reading images as simply sexual because the nude body is present.

 “The basic message of this exhibition is that queers are, in many parts of our lives, just like everyone else,” explains Saslow, who also serves as the professor emeritus of art history at City University of New York. “At the same time, all queers are different from one another, so the show is aiming to illustrate both our commonality with mainstream society and our own distinctive ways of performing the everyday activities we share with them,” he adds.

The artworks collectively suggest that there is more to identity than gender and sexuality and that such focus can obscure other important qualities that form identity. “Let’s face it: almost a half-century after Stonewall, there is still a lingering stereotype that queers are defined by their sexuality, and by their excessive pursuit of it. We’re more than that, and it’s politically essential to show images of our full lives in order to humanize us in the eyes of the mainstream,” says Saslow.

Rolande Grataloup, Coffee and Juice, 1979, Etching on paper, 7.5 x 11 in. Gift of the artist. Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum.

Sage Sohier, Doris and Debie with Doris’ Daughter Junyette, Los Angeles, 1987, Archival pigment print, 15.5 x 23 in. Gift of the artist. Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum.

Andy Warhol, Untitled (Halston “Drag Party” Invitation –model Victor Hugo), 1970s, Silk screen on paper, 6.25 x 9.75 in. Founders’ gift. Collection of Leslie- Lohman Museum.

On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life is on view at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art through October 25th. For more information, click here.

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