In 2019, America is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first ever mass demonstrations of the LGBTQ+ community. The anniversary is marked throughout the country within pride manifestations, talks, book promotions, and exhibitions, and although many things have changed in the meantime, this milestone historical event seems important more than ever in the light of current socio-political context marked by the increment of neo-conservatism.
Therefore, the current exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art joins the celebration by focusing on LGBTQ+ related photographic production made by twenty-seven influential artists. These individuals use portraiture as a tool for the subversion and deconstruction of gender and sexual identity since the 1969 Stonewall Riots until now.
More than fifty works on display should be considered as historically important notes on the shifting nature of the identity, and its conditionality from the prescribed social roles. Furthermore, these works show how we are able to own our identity through our speech, bodily expression, and clothing in order to claim a right to live freely without convictions.
Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth said:
This summer at the Wadsworth we have seized the opportunity to celebrate the artistic accomplishments of many artists working in portraiture. The majority of the portraits in Be Seen are part of our collection, including ten new additions initiated by the exhibition with the purpose of diversifying our holdings.
The curators decided to rotate the exhibition around four themes in order to show the changes occurred after the iconic event in 1969.
The first one titled Picturing Community gathers artists such as Catherine Opie, Nan Goldin, Zanele Muholi, and others, and is focused on the everyday experiences of their subjects. The selection of these portraits mostly depicts the desire of the queer people to become visible and to feel suppressed and silenced.
On the other hand, the second theme Warhol and His Legacy underlines the influence of Andy Warhol and his radical approach to depicting queer lives on young artists; this particular segment features the portraits of iconic individuals by Patti Smith, Peter Hujar and Robert Mapplethorpe.
The following segment called Performing Identity presents memorable self-portraits by Cindy Sherman, Ana Mendieta, Iké Udé, and Martine Gutierrez focused on their personal identity explorations, while the last theme Reclaiming Art History examines the domains of contemporary LGBTQ+ photographers and their queering of art history.
The exhibition also features the 2018 short film titled Happy Birthday, Marsha! written and directed by Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel and dedicated to the transgender artist and activist Marsha P. Johnson, one of the leading proponents of the Stonewall Riots.
Be Seen: Portrait Photography Since Stonewall will be on display at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, CT until 15 September 2019.
The programmed tour called Out on View: LGBTQ+ Perspectives on the Collection accompanies the exhibition by offering an interpretation of the artworks from the museum’s collection from the queer perspective. The audience is also encouraged to take over a mobile audio tour of works in Be Seen which provides further insight into the practices of the exhibited artists and local queer community.
Featured image: Mickalene Thomas - Racquel with Les Trois Femmes, 2018. Chromogenic print. © Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art/The Douglas Tracy Smith and Dorothy Potter Smith Fund, 2019. All images courtesy The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum.