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LGBTQ+ Themes and Histories in Contemporary Art at The Fralin

  • Ray Johnson - Untitled
August 18, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

In 2019, the 50th anniversary of the first major demonstration which changed to course of LGBTQ+ struggle takes place across the country. The iconic 1969 Stonewall riots were caused by the omnipresent homophobia and violence conducted by the police which used to raid the bars where queer people hung out, Stonewall being one of them.

Many institutions took part in commemorating this historical event by organizing talks with the former participants and activist, panel discussions, film projections, and exhibitions. The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia also decided to join in by presenting an exhibition titled Otherwise. It is made up of more than forty works from their permanent collection that explore how LGBTQ+ culture influenced the art currents from the early 20th century until the present day.

Duane Michals - Things are Queer
Duane Michals – Things are Queer, 15/25, (detail of the nine photograph sequence), 1973. Gelatin silver print, 4 x 5 1/2 in (10.2 x 14 cm). Museum purchase with the Curriculum Support Fund, 1998.26. The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia © Duane Michals. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York.

The Exhibition Concept

Hannah Cattarin, the Museum’s curatorial assistant who curated the show was inspired by the writings of Teresa de Lauretis, José Esteban Muñoz, and David J. Getsy, and according to her words, it tends to “reexamine what we take for granted as ‘normal’ and reinvigorate our community’s relationship with the Museum’s collection”. The works of over twenty-five LGBTQ+ artists and the ones who explored these themes are contrasted together.

Two new works are acquired for this exhibitionBona II, Charlottesville, Virginia by Zanele Muholi, from the artist’s Somnyama Ngonyama series focused on the self-presentation (the curiosity is that this photograph is the first work in the Fralin’s collection made by a contemporary non-binary artist), and a magazine and C-print of the cover entitled Indigenous Woman by Martine Gutierrez; the artist appropriated fashion magazine aesthetic in order to explore her transgender Latina identity.

Zanele Muholi - Bona II
Zanele Muholi – Bona II, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2015. Gelatin silver print on paper, 21 1/4 x 13 inches (54 x 33 cm). Museum purchase with funds from the Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights at the University of Virginia, 2019.1. The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the artist, Yancey Richardson, New York, and Stevenson Cape Town / Johannesburg

The Installment

The exhibition is divided into three sections, titled Self, Subject and Style.

The first one features the works by artists who use self-portraiture the explore their identities, such as the case with Paul Thek and Yasumasa Morimura.

The following section Subject explores the representations of queer themes and individuals present in the works by Duane Michals, Kiki Smith, and Nan Goldin.

The final section titled Style is focused on the issues caused by a categorization of the art of queer artists and underlines their lack of visibility through the pieces by Louise Nevelson and Berenice Abbott.

Yasumasa Morimura - Aimai-no-bi
Yasumasa Morimura – Aimai-no-bi (Ambiguous Beauty), 1995. Photomechanical reproduction on paper and wood fan, 11 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 2 5/8 inches (29.2 x 3.8 x 6.7 cm). Gift of the Peter Norton Family, 1996.21.3. The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia. © Yasumasa Morimura.

Otherwise at The Fralin Museum of Art

Despite the significant changes concerning LGBTQ acceptance made in the past years in the States, the current exhibition doesn’t just contribute to the Stonewall riots anniversary, but it also shows a broader shift in the institutional policies when it comes to the greater visibility and equal treatment of queer artists.

Otherwise will be on display at The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia until 5 January 2020.

Featured image: Ray Johnson – Untitled, 1957 – 1958. Collage on paper, 3 13/16 x 5 7/8 inches (9.7 x 14.9 cm). Gift of Irma Seitz, from the Collection of William C. and Irma S. Seitz, 1975.5.40. The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia. © Estate of Ray Johnson. All images courtesy The Fralin Museum of Art.