Not Just Stonewall: New Show Explores 50 Years of Queer Art

Nick Blumberg | May 22, 2019 6:03 pm

Fifty years ago next month, the Stonewall riots in New York City started the modern gay rights movement (at least, they did in the popular imagination). A new exhibition at Lincoln Park’s Wrightwood 659 challenges how we think of Stonewall’s place in history – and offers a comprehensive survey of 50 years of queer art.

About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art” uses the 1969 uprising as less of a defining concept and more of a jumping-off point.

“There is some contextual information about the Stonewall riots, but for the most part (the) vision is about the nature of queerness and the nature of queerness in our society,” said Jim McDonough, executive director of the Alphawood Foundation, which funded the show.

Curator Jonathan David Katz, who directed the landmark 2016 show “Art AIDS America,” says this show challenges the notion that Stonewall marked a split between gay and straight.

“It’s actually about getting rid of any kind of divide or split. This is a show about how we are always many things at once, and it elevates the idea of trans-ness ... hybridity, flux, shift, as the defining quality of the liberation movement,” Katz said.

Another defining quality: political engagement, and a refusal to stay quiet. The show features works challenging default binaries of male and female, gay and straight. It highlights how queerness is intersectional – crossing boundaries of gender and ethnicity and social status – and how gay rights should be inextricable from other political movements. Carl Pope’s wall of letterpress posters are rooted in the African-American experience. Intersex artist Del LaGrace Volcano’s photographs defy gender as merely male or female. Canadian-born Attila Richard Lukacs’s large-scale paintings criticize mass incarceration and U.S. foreign policy.