In 2006 Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York opened a group exhibition titled “The Name of This Show Is Not: Gay Art Now.” In a press release, Jack Pierson, the artist who curated the exhibition, mused, “It seems to me the notion of Gay Art is somewhat passé and this show is an ode to its passing. It includes work by over fifty artists, not all of whom are gay, identify as gay, and not all of whom are living. The name of this show is not Gay Art Now. Maybe the link being made is about sensibility, maybe it’s about society.”
Matthew Barney, whom the world knew as heterosexual, was included because his art showed a “willingness to ‘go there,’ ” per the press release, and “unsurprisingly because he is cute.” An entire room was devoted to a re-creation of the downtown New York apartment of the artist and drag performer Tabboo! (aka Stephen Tashjian). Descriptions of the show also mentioned some of the women artists included in it (Nan Goldin, Collier Schorr, Elizabeth Peyton), noting that the nomenclature “women artists” was “as scary as ‘Gay Art’ ” and that these women “provide the only homoerotic tendencies in this provocatively titled little show.”
A lot has happened in the 13 years since that momentous “little show,” in the art world and—more important—in the world at large. Gay marriage has been legalized. We’ve been introduced to the first openly gay football and basketball players. The first openly gay and bisexual people now serve in the U.S. Congress. The first openly trans woman is serving in a state legislature. We’ve seen a trans woman on the cover of Vanity Fair and a high-profile television show devoted to a character’s transition. Proponents of LGBTQ+ rights have increased visibility internationally. A few years ago, the New York City Mayor’s Office started running ads in the city’s subway system promising “health services, someone to talk to, housing assistance & more” to LGBTQ+ youth, accompanied by photos of real teenagers with their first names, their ages, and how they self-identify. The phrases that the kids used to identify themselves were sophisticated, at least to my mind: “pansexual male,” “heteroromantic bisexual male,” “pansexual woman,” “non-binary/fluid,” “queer femme,” “genderqueer on testosterone,” “lesbian demigirl,” “gender nonconforming/pansexual,” “queer man of trans experience,” and so on. That all those same ads had the word “bullying” in them points to the fact that progress is only partial; outside of large, mostly progressive cities but also within them, members of the LGBTQ+ community live openly at risk of persecution or worse.
In the art world, developments relating to the LGBTQ+ communities continue to rack up. This summer the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, will present the exhibition “Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today,” supported by a $175,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. In November, Asia will see its largest-ever exhibition dedicated to LGBTQ+ art in the form of “Spectrosynthesis II—Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia” at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. And as noted numerous times in the following pages, commemorations and memorials over the course of the year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, including the promising “Art After Stonewall: 1969–1989” exhibition that opens in April in New York.
Here at ARTnews, when we started discussing the idea of publishing an issue devoted to LGBTQ+ art and the culture surrounding it, we kept getting stuck on the title. Over and over again in this issue, in profiles and interviews, artists struggle with the idea of “gay art” and “gay artists,” “queer art” and “queer artists,” “trans art” and “trans artists.” Are such distinctions liberating or limiting? Is all the visibility that has risen in recent years a universally beneficial development? We finally settled on pulling a page from Pierson’s playbook—and all credit goes to him for coming up with the idea. I hope you’ll find this issue—The Name of Which Is Not Queer Art Now—to be the beginning of a conversation and certainly not the end.