This is an exhibition about metamorphosis. Fifty years after Stonewall, we’re still very much a community in progress. The traditional view, that Stonewall represents the birth of a gay and lesbian movement, couldn’t be further from the truth on at least two counts: it hardly represents the beginning and it was never just gay and lesbian. On the contrary, we have always embraced a transpolitics, in the sense of working to variously transgress, transfigure, transpose, transform, and finally, transcend a world of binary options, whether they be gay/straight, male/female, minority/majority, or conformist/nonconformist. Not for nothing were trans folk of various stripes the literal spark that ignited the Stonewall flame. This exhibition thus focuses on art in which boundaries blur, forms mutate, the natural is denaturalized, and the transgressive and transcendent are linked. In the works on view in About Face, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and race—far from being clear categories—hybridize and overlap to the point that “queer” becomes a verb, not a noun.
As a result, we have changed the culture such that, in the main, we all are growing queerer and queerer—slowly and discontinuously to be sure, with strong regional differences and numerous, agonizing setbacks. And by we, I don’t mean only those of us who already identify with the term queer; I mean to include quite specifically those who don’t. Queers aren’t the outliers anymore, we’re the team leaders, thought-leaders, and cheerleaders for a brave new world where the stable, familiar categories of identity continue to erode and mix. This hasn’t been an easy accomplishment and the route is littered with corpses—with AIDS by no means the only cause of death. But importantly, this new queerer world isn’t about creating a more modern, stable identity, but the perpetuation of a continuously hybrid one, a recognition that we are all an amalgam of many identities, that the problem with “identity politics” is that it’s written in the singular. This recognition was modeled in art long before it could be brought to life.
About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art is installed in five sections—Transgress, Transfigure, Transpose, Transform, and Transcend—that map a trajectory from political resistance to the overcoming of stable identity categories. A state-of-the-field survey of queer art today, About Face features works by a diverse group of artists from Colombia, India, Cuba, the UK, Sweden, South Africa, China, France, Indonesia, the United States, and Canada. The artists are trans, female, male, and intersex, as well as African or of African descent, Indigenous, Asian, White, and Latinx, and/or some combination of all of these. Most of these artists actively seek to recruit audiences to the very queer recognition that, without the defining or policing of our differences, identity is always plural, what the poet Frank O’Hara termed “myselves.” Thus to be queer is to be a hybrid thing. About Face charts this ongoing process of the queering of our culture.
Artist featured in the exhibition include: Carlos Alfonzo, Ralph Arnold, Shimon Attie, Amos Badertscher, Joan E. Biren, Rashayla Marie Brown in collaboration with Brianna McIntyre, Roger Brown, Jerome Caja, Nick Cave, Tianzhuo Chen, Patricia Cronin, John Dugdale, Bob Faust, Gilbert & George Maria Elena Gonzalez, Hervé Guibert, Harmony Hammond, Keith Haring, Lyle Ashton Harris, Sharon Hayes, Richard Hofmann, Peter Hujar, Bill Jacobson, Deborah Kass, Greer Lankton, Attila Richard Lukacs, Harvey Milk, Kent Monkman, Carlos Motta, Zanele Muholi, Alice O’Malley, Carl Pope, Marlon Riggs, Jacolby Satterwhite, Leonard Suryajaya, Gail Thacker, Keijaun Thomas, Arthur Tress, Del LaGrace Volcano, Sophia Wallace, and Martin Wong.
The curator of the exhibition is Jonathan David Katz, PhD, Visiting Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at The University of Pennsylvania and chair of the doctoral program in Visual Studies at the University at Buffalo.
After fleeing Cuba in the Mariel boatlift of 1980, artist Carlos Alfonzo found his way into the Miami art scene, where he continued his work as a painter and developed a following. Before his departure, and while under house-arrest, Alfonzo covered the walls of his home with murals, foreshadowing the large-scale work he would come to complete in the US. His paintings are often dark, with strokes of color against unblended backgrounds and scratchy lines that are faint and look to be on the verge of disappearing. Often, they contain symbols integrated from sources such as Santería and Catholicism, with motifs such as teeth, crosses, eyes, and teardrops, that address themes like mortality and spirituality. Bodies and heads, especially disjointed ones, became prominent features of his paintings, which took a darker turn toward the end of his life.
Prior to moving to the US, Alfonzo received degrees from the Academia San Alejandro and the University of Havana in art and art history respectively. Alfonzo was diagnosed with AIDS in 1990 and died a year later. In 1991, the year of his death, his work was included in the prominent Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. During his lifetime, Alfonzo was the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including ones at the Bass Museum of Art, the Miami Art Museum, and the Museo Nacional in Havana. Following his death, Alfonzo’s work was shown in the posthumous exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum titled Triumph of the Spirit: Carlos Alfonzo, A Survey (1975-1991).
Ralph Arnold was an American artist who created collages that commented on race, sexuality, gender, and politics in the United States. As a black, gay, veteran, Arnold’s identity informed his multi-layered use of materials and content. He collaged together mass media ephemera and pictures from magazines and newspapers, often juxtaposing war imagery and propaganda with advertisements and slogans of consumerism. There is an element of concealment to his projects, seen in strips of color visible beneath collaged pieces, and when he uses words along with his images, they are often obscured in paint, possibly alluding to the complexity of identity. Arnold was born in Chicago and served in the Korean War but returned to the city to teach at Loyola University and lived there the rest of his life. His solo exhibition, The Many Hats of Ralph Arnold: Art, Identity, & Politics, was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago in 2018.
Shimon Attie is a New York-based visual artist whose work includes site-specific installations and their photographic documentation and, more recently, multi-channel video installations. His projects address themes of memory and place, and they often work within the layers of history to reintroduce marginalized lives into the landscape. Although his earlier work relied heavily on site-specificity, he considers his newer body of work to more closely resemble visual poetry and fiction. Consistent throughout Attie’s artistic practice is the desire to create a dialogue between the past and the present. He accomplishes this through physically intervening in sites and using technology such as slide projections and lasers to “write” on architecture and landscapes. Examples of this include site-specific light box installations across Israel and Palestine, the projection of images from pre-WWII Jewish street life onto or near the Berlin buildings in which they were originally taken, and the installation of underwater light box refugee portraits in Copenhagen’s Borsgraven canal. For Attie, these projects draw memory to the present in environments where they may lie dormant. A graduate of San Francisco State University’s MFA program, Attie has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Visual Arts Fellowship from Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award in Art. He is currently represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.
Self-taught photographer Amos Badertscher has lived in Baltimore his entire life and has been chronicling street culture there since the 1960s. His work includes documenting the typically undocumented in the city – sex workers, drug addicts, queer and trans folks, hustlers. These photographs are frequently accompanied by his handwriting wrapping around their edges, often stories or observations about the subjects presented. This act of framing makes the physical process of the photo visible and reinforces the bodily theme of the images they encase. Badertscher’s photos remain as documents of a disappearing American subculture impacted heavily by drug epidemics and AIDS. His work has been published in the books Badertscher in 1998 and again in 1999 with Baltimore Portraits, a catalog of his photographs spanning from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. Badertscher still lives in Baltimore, but he has since donated his work to the Leslie Lohman Museum.
Joan E. Biren is an American photographer who grew up in the Washington D.C. area and has been documenting the LGBT community, particularly lesbians, since the 1960s, a time of limited visibility. She values access above money, displaying work in public whenever she can, and at one point giving away images for free when people couldn’t afford to pay for them. In her photographic practice itself, she maintains a spirit of collaboration, a mutual visibility that favors equal exchanges over a photographer-subject hierarchy. In a similar shared spirit, she founded a lesbian collective called The Furies, a D.C.-based, communal living group. For her, being around lesbians, seeking out gathering places, and documenting at events like music festivals and political demonstrations is an important part of preserving history and giving marginalized groups visibility. Biren attended Mount Holyoke College, who awarded her an honorary doctorate of fine arts in 2017. A year later, she received the Alice Austen Award for the Advancement of Photography.
Multidisciplinary artist Rashayla Marie Brown started her artistic practice as a poet in London, but, over the course of her life, she has expanded her expertise to include photography, voice acting, performance, installation, and video. Her work often centers on the self, contemplating themes of self-mastery, self-authorship, voice and agency, autonomy, and emotional vulnerability. She describes herself as “a black femme who does not wish to entertain, but to unsettle and educate” and often crosses and combines disciplines in her work, drawing from subjects including art history, religion, and popular culture. Brown holds a BA in African American Studies and Sociology from Yale, a BFA in Photography and Video from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and, in 2018, completed her MA in Performance Studies at Northwestern University.
Roger Brown was a leading member of the Chicago Imagists, a group of artists united not necessarily by style, but through shared beliefs, such as a rejection of Abstract Expressionism in favor of works with concrete imagery, and an interest in surrealism, comics, and advertising. Memory and experience always saturated Brown’s art and, growing up, he found himself particularly influenced by Art Deco design and the aesthetics of pop culture, which he incorporated into his work, often in a humorous or satirical way. In a style that echoes comic strips, his paintings frequently employ supersaturated colors and a bright palette, sometimes functioning as multi-framed stories with symmetry, gradient backgrounds, and silhouetted figures. Following his death, his home and studio in Lincoln Park were turned into the Roger Brown Study Collection, a public museum and archive owned by his alma matter, the School of the Art Institute.
Jerome Caja was a California-based artist who produced work in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His Catholic upbringing effected his habit of working with religious and art historical iconography, but he often turned these images on their heads. Caja’s paintings often allude to desire, death, and the degradation of the body caused by AIDS, which are represented in motifs such as birds, clowns, rotten fruit, and broken eggs. His allegiance to the drag queen community informed his use of materials, such as make-up and nail polish, substances that cover but also have the capability of being removed. He makes use of other materials like white-out, ephemera such as newsprint, and even his friend Charles Sexton’s ashes. Despite advice from his art instructors to work in a larger scale, many of his pieces are small. Some are mixed media mounted on existing prints that show an interest in covering up what is already there or in removing what once was. What remains is the permanency of impermanent materials, the resistance to removal, of making a dying thing last, perhaps as if to solidify his own identity and existence and carry it past its physical end. Caja, who attended the San Francisco Art Institute, died of AIDS in 1995. While much of his work and archival materials are housed in the New York Public Library, the Los Angeles County Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian, many pieces remain in the collections of close family and friends.
Nick Cave is a Chicago-based visual, performance, and sculpture artist and dancer who weaves his artforms together to create pieces that are never a single, easily definable object. He is perhaps most well-known for his Soundsuits: large, often colorful sculptural costumes made from found materials, both something to be worn, but also structures that refuse simple categorization. The first one was spurred by the Rodney King riots, a series of events during which Cave confronted his own identity as a black man. Forced to think deeply about the dangers of racial profiling, he began collecting objects that had also been discarded or deemed devoid of value. He would then construct a suit out of what he found, realizing that they were meant to be worn, and that they made sound. These “secondary skins” and “suits of armor” erase the race, gender, and class of the wearer, allowing a space for appreciation without judgement. Cave continued his exploration of the adornment of a surface with his paintings, which act as bas-reliefs that protrude from walls like sculptures. This ambiguity of form is intentional for Cave, who wants viewers to wonder what they’re seeing. He has exhibited at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the ICA Boston, among other museums, and his large-scale installation, Until, was organized by MASS MoCA and co-produced with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art of Bentonville, AR and Carriageworks in Sydney, Australia. Cave, who lives and works in Chicago, teaches in the Fashion Design department at the School of the Art Institute.
Bridging performance art and new religion, Tianzhou Chen explores the edges of self-expression. The worlds he creates in his pieces are operatic, and his characters, often nude or near naked but elaborately ornamented in body paint and jewelry, occupy the performance space as if it were a stage or a ritual site, one in which desire and bodies inhabit a new kind of temple where chaos is praised. His performances are immersive experiences filled with sonic background noise, half-monster humans, water, bright lights, and figures that are god-like, whom he directs in an effort to examine religion as the construction of stories and pursues what it would be like to create his own. Chen, who is represented by Long March Space, earned his bachelor’s in Graphic Design from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and his master’s degree from Chelsea College of Art. His work has been featured internationally, with a 2014 solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. He was born in Beijing and currently splits his time between Beijing and Shanghai.
In her multidisciplinary art practice that includes painting, sculpture, and installation, Patricia Cronin takes ancient forms and relates them to contemporary issues of human rights, commenting on issues like sexism and class. She often borrows from 19th century sculptural models but uses 21st century technology in her work. The 2002 project, Memorial to a Marriage, is an over life-size funerary monument of Cronin and her partner Deborah Kass, embracing each other in a bed of sheets. Drawing influence from Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting The Sleepers, Cronin’s piece acts as a memorial marking the couple’s future grave. For her, the artwork is also political. The piece was created at a time when gay marriage was still illegal in New York, in this way commemorating a union that hadn’t happened yet and, at the same time, memorializes a future death. Cronin received her BFA from Rhode Island College and her MFA from Brooklyn College. Her work has been shown at institutions such as the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Connecticut, the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida, and the Lab Gallery in Dublin, Ireland.
John Dugdale studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York and most frequently shot commercial work until he became nearly blind due to an HIV-related illness at the age of 33. After losing most of his sight, his work took a personal turn. He began creating still lifes and portraits of people he was close to, working with an assistant but composing from memory, and using 19th century photographic processes, including large-format cameras and cyanotype and platinum printing techniques. These circumstances give his work a certain softness, a dream-like quality that seems to transcend time and place. Dugdale’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and resides in the permanent collections of institutions including the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Bob Faust is the principal and creative director of the cultural branding and communications studio, Faust, as well as the studio and special projects director for artist and partner Nick Cave. In his art and design practice, Faust is committed to maintaining authentic interactions with clients along with making thoughtful design choices with emotion and intention. His devotion to fostering an artistic community can be seen in the opening of a new collaborative art space in northwest Chicago that he established with Cave. The space is called Facility, and it was built with the purpose of giving aspiring artists a welcoming, shared space to work. Faust’s attention to detail and expertise in typography and design have earned him recognition from institutions such as the Society of Typographic Arts, How magazine, and the design firm UnderConsideration. Some of his previous clients have included MASS MoCA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Chicago Dancemakers Forum; and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
For Gilbert & George, life and art are inseparable. The two began creating under one name after meeting at Saint Martin’s School of London in 1967. Their collaboration started with their first “singing sculpture” in 1969, in which they painted themselves bronze and performed the Vaudeville song Underneath the Arches. They became attracted to the idea of living sculptures and believe in their own ability to become art. In all of their pieces, Gilbert & George intend to challenge what people think art and artists should be. The duo often explores controversial topics and are forthright in addressing themes like religion, sex, and violence, all the while approaching their pieces with humor and bright color. More recently, they have been creating large-scale photographic prints arranged in grids: bold, busy works that are meant to be eye-catching and confrontational. Regardless of medium, the artists’ own experiences always inform their work, specifically the east London scene where they continue to live and work today. Their recent shows include Gilbert & George: The Great Exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and solo shows at the Helsinki Art Museum in Finland and at LUMA in Arles, France.
María Elena González, a Cuban-born artist, works with architecture and memory. Her projects often explore themes of home and identity, especially the concept of home as something that moves with you, instead of something that you leave or return to. In her 2017 installation Magic Carpet/Home, she uses materials that, in her words, “behave like memory.” The piece is a replica of the original 2003 project where she painted the layout of a Los Angeles apartment on a surface of soft, rubberized playground material on top of an undulating wooden base. Infused within the work are González’s connections between memory and place, but by encouraging visitors to walk on the piece, she gives weight to the viewer’s own connections to the project and emphasizes the importance she places on the physical experience of sculpture. González has exhibited at institutions such as the Bronx Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, where she was a fellow in 2006, and El Museo del Barrio in New York.
Hervé Guibert was a French writer and photographer whose work was always intimately self-obsessed. In his writings about photography, he wrote in the first-person and did the same in his novels, often spinning fiction closer to poetic memoir. He took pictures of himself, which he deemed autoportraits, but also of his friends and lovers. An interest in the self and the body pervade his photographs, which are often simple in subject, mundane but weird ghost-like images shot with Tri-X black and white film. They play with shadows, solitude, themes of obsessive love, degradation, and bodies and the way they move. Apart from taking photographs, Guibert also wrote for the French paper Le Monde and made the film La Pudeur ou l’impudeur (Modesty and Shame), chronicling the last year of his life as he was dying from AIDS. It was screened in France one month after his death. A number of his written works, including a series of novels, a photography album, and his diary, Le Mausolée des amants, have been published posthumously.
Harmony Hammond’s large-scale work does not fit neatly into painting or sculpture. It might be said to occupy the space between them based on the way she makes use of natural and found materials, such as blood and rusty metal, as “visual metaphors” for ideas like desire, body, and place. Her use of objects that have been discarded parallel the lives of marginalized individuals, which are often subject to being tossed aside. Hammond pulls this underlying tension to the front of her work by disrupting the painted surface and uncovering the materials below. She views this as a kind of survivor aesthetic, one that endures and exposes color underneath cracks and holes. Hammond is represented by Alexander Gray Associates, NYC, and her work is in the collections of numerous institutions including the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art – Chicago, the Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum. She currently lives and works in New Mexico.
Upon moving to New York City from Pennsylvania in 1978, Keith Haring brought his cartoon-pop-graffiti-style art to the streets, occupying the city’s subways to create white chalk drawings on unused black advertising boards, drawing the attention of commuters with their simple yet expressive lines. With a disregard for perfection, Haring created line drawings that were often quick but clean, featuring motifs like barking dogs, UFOs, and babies. In 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop in downtown Manhattan, which sold items like t-shirts or stickers with his work on them – a quick and easy way for his art to reach mass audiences. His desire to connect with as many people as possible led him to create large-scale murals that were often injected with social messages, like his Crack is Wack mural in 1986. He created projects in children’s hospitals and also pieces that helped raise awareness about AIDS. The Pop Shop stayed open until 2005, fifteen years after he had died from the disease in 1990, but the Keith Haring Foundation, which he started a year before his death, continues to spread his universal appeal and extend his legacy.
In an array of disciplines that includes photography, collage, installation, and performance work, Lyle Ashton Harris explores themes of self, masculinity and the black male body, and the performance of gender, among others. Much of his photographic work echoes the tradition of documentation within anthropology, but he often examines his own self. Harris’s most recent project, Flash of the Spirit, is a series of self-portraits in masks, which he sees as offering “multiple levels of embodiment.” The artist received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1990 and afterwards completed the National Graduate Photography Seminar at NYU and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. He has exhibited at institutions such as the Guggenheim and the Walker Art Center and took part in the 2016 Bienal de São Paulo and the 2017 Whitney Biennial.
Sharon Hayes’s practice consists of taking pieces of political history and pulling them into the present. She publicly recontextualizes historical events, “respeaking” speeches, thereby giving them a new purpose or connection to the contemporary world. In a mix of performance and audience engagement, she often takes her art to the streets, for example, holding a protest sign with a slogan from an earlier time, reinserting history into the present. Although she studied anthropology and practiced journalism while in school, she turned to art and performance because it allowed her a certain freedom from the faults of each – journalism’s tendency to generalize the impact of world events and anthropology’s uneasy relationship between ethnographer and subject. Performance became a way of socially engaging while relating history to contemporary struggles that are unresolved and ongoing. Hayes received her MFA in interdisciplinary studies from UCLA and has had solo exhibitions at institutions including Art in General in New York, the University of California Irvine, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art. She is currently an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.
In a style that is sometimes aggressively expressive and almost always figural, Richard Hofmann creates paintings that often earn him the label of neo-expressionist. He paints in layers of thick lines and unblended brushstrokes, overlapping his figures and meshing bold colors across the field of the canvas. The presence of his hand in his paintings preserves the bodily element of his work that is echoed in his subject matter. Hofmann’s paintings often resemble collages in the way that he arranges his figures. They melt into each other against their backgrounds, ghost-like and sickly, but brashly opposed to disappearing. Although he follows typical neo-expressionist form in the rough way he handles his materials and the boldness of his palette, it is this distortion of figures that sets him apart from other artists in this group. He has worked in other mediums as well, including photo montage and etching, which also rely on the presence of bodies as their primary subject matter. A graduate of New York’s Pratt Institute, Hofmann was a member of ACT UP during the height of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s. He received his first retrospective in 2017, an exhibition of over 150 works organized by the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition.
Peter Hujar’s photographs are often simple in subject and tone but complex in emotion and range of material presented. He has documented people, animals, landscapes, the circus, and the catacombs of Paris, and all his photographs exude a certain calmness. Hujar, influenced by fashion photography of the 1950s, was a prominent figure in the New York City art scene of the 70s and 80s, and his subjects were often other artists or people he was interested in, making his photographs homage-like tributes to their sitters. Hujar is most known for these black and white portraits in which his minimalist approach stripped the scene of all excess. The space of the photograph is sometimes simple – figures are often solitary, landscapes are often deserted – yet they exude an unconventional beauty. He published one book during his lifetime, Portraits in Life and Death, which features an introduction by Susan Sontag. His body of work is managed by the Peter Hujar Archive.
Most of the early photographs taken by Bill Jacobson are bright, out-of-focus bodies against luminous backdrops. These “defocused” figures avoid clear recognition and almost demand your eye to keep looking, as if this might pull them into focus. His photographic style is influenced by Diane Arbus and her overt representations of homosexuality and otherness. Jacobson’s own works are heavily saturated with the experience of loss associated with AIDS, reinforced by the fact that his figures often look like they’re fading away. In later photographs, figures rest against deep black backgrounds and, at times, are completely erased in favor of minimalist still lifes, in which he places abstract shapes and blocks of color into nature. He has since reintroduced figures into his work, but he continues to create landscapes and other photographs that retain the unclear edges of his earlier portraits. His work is in multiple public collections across the US, including in the Brooklyn Museum; the New Orleans Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; the Princeton Art Museum; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Deborah Kass is a contemporary American artist who intends with her work to reinsert women’s voices into art history. She draws stylistically from pop art, employing references to pop culture, using loud text against bold backgrounds of color, and incorporating sculptural elements like neon signs. For her, appropriation is rewriting. She often reworks well-known images, like Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series, and uses these as a jumping off point to both pay homage to the male artists of the past who have influenced her style and simultaneously challenge the male-driven field of art history. Working with Warhol, for example, is a way of critiquing mainstream depictions of beauty and inserting her own identity as a Jewish woman into art history. Kass is a graduate of the prestigious Whitney Museum Independent Study Program and Skowhegan School of Art. She has shown work at the Venice Biennale and, in 2012, was the subject of a mid-career retrospective at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Kass’ OY/YO installation commissioned for the Brooklyn Bridge Park is currently installed in front of the Brooklyn Art Museum.
Self-taught painter Bhupen Khakhar is known for his colorful scenes of everyday life in his hometown of Bombay, India. By the time he started painting, he was working as a part-time accountant and had thought early on that he might become a writer. While he did write, he also found a way to tell his stories visually. Displeased by the novelty of what was considered exotic in art, it was his immediate surroundings that most interested Khakhar. He used vibrant colors in his landscapes, often alluded to fables and class structure in India, and was open about his sexuality in his work. His paintings were in numerous international solo shows in Amsterdam, London, Berlin, and Tokyo, and his work is now in the collections of prestigious museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the British Museum. In 2016, the Tate Modern exhibited work from throughout Khakhar’s life, in a wide-spanning posthumous survey of his career.
Dancing between dead and alive, Greer Lankton’s handmade dolls are at once gaunt, ghostly figures and eerily realistic caricatures of both imaginary and sometimes famous characters. She tended to use a wide slew of materials in their creation – things like wire, fabric, plaster, coat hangers, and glass eyes from a taxidermist’s shop, and often imbued the dolls with their own stories that sometimes echoed her own life. They often bend gender and sex and deal with eating disorders, emaciation, and sadness, paralleling Lankton’s own struggles with anorexia and the bodily violence she experienced as a trans woman. Shortly after moving to New York, she became a part of the East Village art scene and exhibited at the 1981 New York/New Wave show at PS1 and later in the 1995 Whitney Biennial and Venice Biennale. All of her dolls demonstrate an immense attention to detail. Their wiry bodies hold an intense, skeletal beauty, with bones protruding from beneath their fabric, almost as if in rebellion to their own skin. Lankton died in her Chicago apartment soon after completing her largest and final work, It’s All About Me, Not You, which is now a permanent installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh.
Attila Richard Lukacs is a Canadian-born artist who is best known for his paintings of masculine and militaristic figures and gay skinheads that explore themes of male power, social deviance, and homosexuality. Upon moving to Berlin in 1986, he found himself particularly influenced by the city scene there, and by the symbols with which youth covered their bodies. Lukacs found references for his paintings in pornographic magazines in the bookstores of Berlin, thus integrating the city’s gay history into his work. Lukacs also has a habit of referencing art history, seen in his historical compositions, architectural forms, and figural arrangements that echo painters like Caravaggio and Jacques-Louis David. More recently, his work has included landscapes, gardens, and grisailles, or grayscale paintings, that include the repetition of silhouettes or lines and traces of wraith-like figures, demonstrating a continual interest in figural painting. Lukacs has exhibited in spaces such as the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Museum Ludwig in Germany, and the National Gallery in Canada.
Brianna McIntyre is a Chicago-based visual artist who often works with found materials and reclaims them to explore themes of identity, sustainability, and labor. She graduated in 2017 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her bachelor’s degree in fiber and material studies with a focus on furniture and designed objects. She works with themes of precariousness and fragility, often pushing materials toward their limits, and uses techniques like interfacing to physically add layers into her art. In 2017, McIntyre exhibited in the EXPO Chicago/SAIC show “Not In My Name” and co-curated the group exhibition “If It Feels Good” in Wicker Park.
Harvey Milk was appointed to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, making him one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. Before his election, he demonstrated against the Vietnam War and founded the Castro Village Association in San Francisco, an organization of LGBT businesses in the area; campaigned against Proposition 6; and opened a camera store on Castro street in 1972. Three years later, Milk became the first openly gay city commissioner in the United States when his friend, Mayor George Moscone, appointed Milk to a position on the city’s Board of Permit Appeals, paving the way for his later success as a city supervisor. Milk was consistently an advocate for being loud about identity and beliefs, but his pride and openness about his sexuality stirred contempt in some. During his time in office, Milk was acutely aware of the potential for his assassination. In 1978, former city supervisor Dan White snuck through the basement doors of city hall and shot and killed both Moscone and Milk. The resulting trial ended with a light sentence for White, which spurred riots on City Hall that night. Since then, Milk’s life has been the subject of books, films, and even an opera. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Kent Monkman is a visual and performance artist of Cree and Irish ancestry whose work reimagines historical narratives to include the indigenous lives they have consistently erased. Monkman’s alter-ego is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, who is featured prominently in his work and time-travels to redirect history. With Miss Chief, Monkman shifts the perspective of the story away from those who often do the telling, giving her authority instead. Time is often skewed, and time frames bleed into each other in his work with overlapping scenes from different historical periods, so the viewer often experiences multiple perspectives at once. Monkman pulls from the narratives of ancient and modern art history, mythology, and the Bible, and he fills the gaps in their stories with his own content, reaffirming an indigenous presence in history. Monkman currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, where his exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, was commissioned for display at the University of Toronto art museum as a celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. This exhibit reflected on colonialism and traditional Western museum practices, highlighting their relationships with Indigenous histories in Canada.
Carlos Motta is a Colombian artist whose multidisciplinary work addresses the historical suppression of identities, often examining themes such as sexuality, gender, class, and race, but focusing especially on oppression caused by colonization and religion. His work takes a variety of forms, from video and sculpture to text-based blood paintings and wood engravings, all working within history to challenge normative narratives and combat the single-minded worldview that there is only one way to be. His work doesn’t attempt to assimilate queer experience into history. Motta would rather acknowledge the differences in queer lives, particularly the extent to which they are conditioned by violence, and he is quick to disagree with the idea that there can be one common queer experience. His work resides in the permanent collections of institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Barcelona, among others.
Zanele Muholi is a self-proclaimed “visual activist” from Umlazi, South Africa. Through self-portraits and photographs of South African lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex individuals, they create visual representation for a community that has been historically marginalized and even erased from public view. Their ongoing project Faces and Phases documents this population, affirms the identities of those within it, and reinserts a queer presence into the country. More recently, Muholi has turned the camera on themself, creating self-portraits that reference South Africa’s history and affirms their own identity in a place where LGBTQ identities are often suppressed. Muholi studied photography in Johannesburg, where they currently live, and received their MFA in documentary media from Ryerson University in Toronto. The art research consultancy in Cape Town, Corrigall & Co, recently named Muholi the top artist in Africa, leading a list of 50 other artists who were validated over the course of ten years.
Alice O’Malley is a New York-based, self-taught photographer who has brought many members of the city’s artistic community into her studio in an effort to create an archive of interactions and collaboration. She uses a large-format 1950s view camera and black and white film with natural light and often simple backdrops that retain the emptiness of her studio setting. She doesn’t dramatically pose anything, but rather lets her subjects create their own images of themselves. By accentuating their identity and gender on their own terms, the setting of the photograph becomes a place of collaboration, one in which genuine interaction and connection is prized over the product itself in a process that embraces imperfection and intimacy. O’Malley has taken pictures for publications such as Vogue and The New York Times Style Magazine and has exhibited at venues such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Ono Arte Contemporanea. She currently teaches at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan.
Carl Pope’s letter-pressed posters combine traditional language and format with contemporary comments on blackness. With a visual language that mimics old-style advertising, Pope chooses to only use text in his posters, carefully considering the format of each individual work. They resemble circus flyers, wanted ads, and military propaganda, mass media ephemera that are capable of swaying people and their opinions. Pope aims to take part in cultural conversations, to make art that is aware and directly references the African-American experience. Apart from the visual language of advertising, his posters borrow ideas and lines from Afrofuturism, movies like Casablanca and The Matrix, songs, poems, and newspaper articles. Everything is intentional in Pope’s work, and he completes it with a calculated, thoughtful, but also carefree attitude: he’s intent on stapling his posters to gallery walls. Following a hiatus from the art world in 2011, Pope returned in 2015 with the project he had put on hold: The Bad Air Smelled of Roses, his largest installation to date, which he finished and displayed at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Pope calls this project a “never-ending essay,” one that uses methods of mass media to challenge perceptions.
Marlon Riggs made documentary-style films that explore black identity and confront issues like racism, homophobia, and the AIDS epidemic. In Ethnic Notions (1987), Riggs examined the anti-black stereotypes that permeated popular culture before the civil rights era. With a combination of humor and clarity, his films investigate black masculinity and sexuality to critique narrow definitions of blackness. He directed his last film Black Is…Black Ain’t in 1995, while he was in the hospital dying from AIDS, and it was finished posthumously. All of his work was recently screened at the film series Race, Sex, & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music [BAM]. In addition to making documentaries, Riggs was an avid writer and a tenured professor at his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley. His archive, the Marlon Riggs Papers, is housed at the Stanford University Libraries.
Jacolby Satterwhite is a new media, visual, and performance artist who creates 3-D animations that explore, among other themes, queer sexuality and desire. His created worlds are alien and surreal, inhabited by avatars of himself and others: often half-mechanical bodies that dance and interact with objects in their surroundings. Satterwhite builds these worlds from his late mother’s sketches, taking her lines on paper and concretizing them, inhabiting them. These layers of animation, and the way the viewer floats through them and encircles them, are dream-like in their realization. Satterwhite explores how we exist virtually but also performs in public, with dance moves inspired by voguing and using objects that aren’t there. Expressing the abstract is a major theme for Satterwhite, whose Reifying Desire video series was shown at the 2014 Whitney Biennial. His work has also been shown at institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the New Museum in New York. He lives and works in Brooklyn.
Leonard Suryajaya creates photographs that are at once absurd and mundane. In collaboration with his family and, more recently, students, he explores identity and belonging, placing his subjects into carefully constructed sets that are light-filled and clean but elaborately posed, and filled with dizzying patterns on the verge of clashing. Suryajaya is Chinese, grew up in Indonesia, attended Christian schools, and was educated in Buddhism. His multi-ethnic upbringing came with experiences of otherness and suppression of identity, which prompted his move to the United States when he was 18, where he later received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He still lives in Chicago but travels back to Indonesia once a year to work there. For Suryajaya, photography is the construction of worlds. His photographs are acts of recreated closeness, ways to revise memories, to complicate identities, and to reinstall new layers of familial intimacy that favor celebrating identity rather than hiding it.
New York-based photographer Gail Thacker lets her pictures bear the effects of time, both in the subjects she captures and in the physical process of their creation. After moving to New York in 1982, Thacker took Polaroid pictures of her surroundings, friends, and lovers, often in a theatre setting, using 665 type film, a large quantity of which was given to her by friend Mark Morrisroe before his death. The Polaroids are then subjected to the same type of decay that breaks the human body. She might leave them for weeks or years, unrinsed, and sometimes outside, to allow them to accumulate the effects of time. She lets the pictures sit and, in this, speeds up their aging. They take on a certain deterioration that manifests itself as a grittiness, sometimes a bubbling up on the surface, time encrusted into the prints: all features that betray the instability of film, a certain death, and in this death, beauty. Thacker continues to work and live in New York City, where she is the artistic director of the Gene Frankel Theatre. In 2017, Daniel Cooney Fine Art presented her major exhibition Between the Sun & The Moon.
Keijaun Thomas is a New York-based performance and multimedia artist who explores black identity through the use of objects and their layered meanings. She asks audiences to participate in the construction of identity, often performing services that examine the relationship of the black body in connection with disposable labor and domesticity, repeating gestures, and reusing materials in ways that can seem absurdist yet create order. At one point, Thomas’ body may be performing a service like cleaning, where she uses the broom as an object, but then she becomes the broom, performing a highly visible shift in identity that speaks to notions of marginalization and passing. Her use of materials, specifically substances like honey, syrup, and flour, works together with her performative movements to comment on labor, race, and the body in relation to objects. Keijaun received her master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has exhibited and performed throughout the United States, in Taiwan, France, and the UK.
After five years of traveling the world and developing skills in ethnographic photography, Arthur Tress returned to his hometown of New York City in 1968 and took pictures of the landscape and environmental degradation there. He preserved this documentary-style approach in later projects but favored a surreal take on the mundane. In the late 1960s, Tress interviewed children about their dreams and nightmares and collaborated with them to concretize their subconscious minds. The result was a series of black and white fantasy worlds with staged surrealism in which the children acted out their dreams, many incorporating themes of death, flying, monsters, and being crushed – simple yet disturbing scenes. In a way, they echo his early childhood habit of taking pictures around Coney Island; the same sense of decay, desertion, and dream-like abandonment occupies both. Later, he completed a series of psychological portraits exploring themes of relationships and homosexual desire and another series of still lifes filled with oddities, retaining his twisted take on real life. Tress received his BFA from Bard College, briefly attended film school in Paris, and has had shows at galleries such as the Galleria PaciArte Contemporanea in Italy and the Musrara Photo Gallery in Jerusalem, which exhibited a retrospective in 2005.
A self-proclaimed “part-time gender terrorist,” Del LaGrace Volcano is intent on bringing visibility and advocacy to differing gender and sexual identities. Working within the LGBTQIA+ community, Volcano photographs bodies that disrupt normative constructions of gender and sex. Their portrait work acts as an archive of visual representation for marginalized bodies, bringing visibility to what is often dismissed. In their collaborative project Visibly Intersex, Volcano documents intersex individuals around the world, an intensely personal endeavor since Volcano is intersex themself. This performance of visibility is an attempt to advocate for the humanity of this community and to fight for their rights and inclusion. They studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and later attended the University of Derby, where they received their MA in photographic studies. Volcano, who currently resides in Sweden, has exhibited their work internationally, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Museum of Modern Art, Glasgow; and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. They were also the subject of a mid-career retrospective at the Leslie-Lohman Museum in 2011.
Sophia Wallace’s photographic and sculptural work speaks for that which has often been ignored. With her photographs, she makes marginalized identities visible, documenting non-normative genders and exploring conceptions of beauty. Her more recent, ongoing project, Cliteracy, speaks for the clitoris, in sculptural and written forms. Repetition is an integral part of her work in the way that it naturalizes bodies that are othered by consistently giving them a space to be seen. Wallace completed a BA in political science from Smith College and an MA in photography from NYU and The International Center of Photography. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, Kunsthalle Wien Museum, and Taschen Gallery. She has also shown her work at Project for Empty Space, where she was a 2019 Artist in Residence.
Martin Wong was a Chinese American artist whose work contains a duality that mirrors his bilingual and “bicoastal” upbringing. He grew up in the Chinatown district of San Francisco but later moved to New York, and so became a part of the art scenes of both. The cities he lived in came to be a part of his work, and he represents the urban environment through the use of motifs such as bricks, which function as symbols for city tenement buildings, as well as urban isolation and decay. His paintings depict not only the city, but the languages that make up cities and communities. The inclusion of American Sign Language in many of his works demonstrates his tendency to see language as both a method of communication as well as a barrier for those who are on the outside of this knowing. Working further within the theme of duality, Wong’s paintings are often a mixing of ground and sky, of urban and astronomical, of tangible and intangible, reinforcing the complex environments of cities and the people who inhabit them. Wong himself lived in San Francisco during the last five years of his life, until his death in 1999. Since this time, his work has been collected by institutions around the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the de Young Museum, and the Syracuse University Art Collection. In 2001, his mother founded the Martin Wong Estate, which provides scholarships for students pursuing art in college and funds art education programs for high schoolers.
About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art is made possible by the Alphawood Foundation Chicago.
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