Having an institution dedicated to archiving, exhibiting and promoting gay and lesbian art is good for an international city, particularly one with established visual art and queer communities. These spaces are the nexus where bodies from both camps gather to create opportunities for creative synergy, spotlight their hereos and, in many ways, offer a place to call home. Such is the theme of On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life, on now at The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York.
I had an opportunity to stop in and capture interactive 360 panoramic images of the exhibition, curated by James M Saslow, author of Pictures and Passion: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. I think I was listening to Bon Iver during my visit… so feel free to press play below and virtually wander through the gallery with me.
On the images below, pan left and right using your cursor or zoom in and out as needed. For best results, view this on your iPhone or iPad and activate the gyroscope icon to get the full effect of The Poetry of Being There. ~Enjoy!
The exhibition is divided into three main chapters: At Home, At Play and At Work. On their own, some of the artworks in the exhibition objectify and sexualize the nude so I appreciated Saslow reframing them as illuminations of the domestic life of LGBT people. In At Home we begin with a much needed recess from tropes of virile recreation and political activism. Far away from the madding crowd, two figures sit on their living room sofa, quietly reading, while other couples shower and brush their teeth. This reframing could easily be viewed of as hetero-nomalizing queers and queer culture which seem to be part of Saslow’s intent, but the exhibition sharply turns, confronting us with the harsh reality of HIV/AIDS which swept though the community. On show are images of the impact HIV/AIDS had and has on so many – at home and at play.
I wonder if the narrative of this exhibition pushes toward ‘blending in’ or is it presenting queer life as a very real and distinct part of a greater whole? Are we the same? Are we different? Are we different, but equal? Is queer domesticity asking to finally put to bed the issues of equality so we can live unpoliticized lives and raise children like everyone else? As lesbian, gay and trans people become more accepted and ubiquitous does queer culture run the risk of disappearing? As long as there are fifty-shades-of-beige suburban housewives who desperately want their hair pulled, I don’t think so.
Something I noticed quickly in this exhibition is the scarcity of racial and gender diversity. This is still common in LGBTQ visual art history exhibitions. They are often heavily loaded with white gay cis-male images and only sprinkled with trans people and people of colour. In a time when diversity and inclusions is at the forefront of LGBTQ cultural discussions, I would have liked to have seen more balanced representations of queer personal life. As is, the exhibition seems to set its parameters in a specific place and time: New York, just before, during and after the AIDS crisis of the mid-80s. I do not fault the museum or the curator. Like the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, I suspect much of the objects, images and ephemera collected and donated comes from the white gay cis-male community. As such, this abundance of material gets reflected in what is exhibited. This said, the exhibition is not whitewashed. There are racial and gender considerations and some effort made to mine the 24000 objects in the musuem collection. A daunting task to distill, I’m sure. When I curated Queering Space this summer, it was a chore to get my hands on many of the objects and, even then, many were not allowed to be put on public view. boo-urns!
I did enjoy the use of wall partitions as a way to divide the exhibition’s chapters and the clever use of hand-printed faux 50s cinematic wallpaper design to reflect each section. The time alone it must have taken to manually apply the step-and-repeat icons should be applauded. A for effort!
If you are in New York or visiting the city, On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life runs until December 6th with a number of talks and tours scheduled with an impressive list of speakers. The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is located at 26 Wooster Street in Soho.