Revolutionary ideas often do not bear fruit because they are incompletely conceived and poorly executed. Likewise, the brash energy that is the foundation of radical arts organizations tends to subside as institutional status is achieved. The all-too-frequent result is a highly functional but increasingly less relevant corporate entity, staffed by business-minded administrators who are thrice removed from any artistic raison d’être, and whose purpose is to repeat endlessly the past well within the established comfort zone, always with a larger budget and more publicity.
The kaleidoscopic and charismatic exhibition “Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community” once again proves the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art to be the incontrovertible exception to any established rule but its own, a tireless creative force with unquestionable staying power. The museum is an accurate mirror to the changing times and, with “Queer Threads,” it pinpoints the precise location of the Gay and Lesbian artist in society today. Twenty-three artists from across the United States, Argentina, Canada, Denmark, and South Africa are represented in a ground-breaking group show, which transforms the museum’s gallery, at 26 Wooster Street, into an environmental sensory experience.
The first impression is one of color: big, bold color that sets a high energy level of visual stimulus from entry to exit. The second impression is one of texture: every piece on show employs startlingly unconventional and revelatory materials and techniques for weaving, knitting, crocheting, quilting, drawing with yarn, and embroidering. The third is one of diversity: diversity of theme, scale, style, material, ethnicity, nationality, and gender identity. The fourth is one of movement: a graceful yet swift and unstoppable movement of the eye, mind, and heart, as the works of art reveal their form and content in an elegant and powerful crescendo.
The meticulous and loving curatorial vision of John Chaich is certainly demonstrated time and again by his transformative utilization of the gallery space and his arresting and sensitive juxtaposition of the grand and the miniature, but most especially, by his unique and apparently effortless ability to establish an articulate and uninterrupted dialogue among all of the works of art in the show.
Several pieces on a grand scale are the anchors which provide the Impactful reference points around which the movement of the exhibition swirls. Nathan Vincent’s life-size, crocheted “Locker Room, 2011,” complete with showers, benches, lockers, and urinals; L.J. Roberts’ “The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Breukelen, Boswyck and Midwout during the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era,” on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum–a first cooperation with that institution for the Leslie-Lohman; and Liz Collins’ mammoth knit “Pride” flag, based on Gilbert Baker’s original 1978 design, each in its way sets things spinning by deconstructing the 90 degree angle of the gallery floor to wall to ceiling. All are outstanding both individually and in ensemble.
There are smaller, even miniature, treasures which captivate one’s attention. Jai Andrew Carrillo’s “Queer Martyrdom by a Gay Culture: A Self Portrait as Saint Sebastian;” Allen Porter’s Untitled, Maria E. Piñeres’ “Bona Fide!;” and John Thomas Paradiso’s “Leather Pansy II,” in particular, bear repeated viewing.
While all of the art strikes one as decorative, at first glance, there are powerful political and societal statements being made at every turn, and a throbbing sexual undercurrent is ever-present.
The grand metaphor of “Queer Threads” is inclusion. In the eloquent words of curator Chaich, “As individuals we are strands; as a community we are interwoven.”
Because the art and artists represented were from all over the world, I came away from the exhibition with an overpowering awareness of the larger context for Gay and Lesbian Art. My overwhelming feeling was that, while the interwoven community of which Chaich spoke is certainly the LGBTQ community, it is also certainly, implicitly, explicitly, and actually, the global community.
Charles W. Leslie and the late Fritz Lohman had the courage, vision, and foresight to found an institution which firmly established, from the outset, that Gay Culture is an integral part of our society, and that it has a past worth preserving, a present worth celebrating, and a future worth anticipating. From its earliest days, the museum’s no-holds-barred policy of presenting the art of artists who deal with provocative and controversial subject matter earned it a place in the larger public consciousness. “Queer Threads” incontestably demonstrates that the LGBTQ thread is much more than a brightly colored rainbow ornamenting the tapestry of global culture. It speaks in a distinctive voice of unique beauty and power, delivering important messages with vivid character: essential, irreplaceable, and unbreakable. “Queer Threads” is a must-see, and will be on view through March 16. I urge you to visit it more than once.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first and only dedicated gay and lesbian art museum in the world, with a mission to exhibit and preserve gay and lesbian art and foster the artists who create it. The museum has a permanent collection of over 22,000 objects; produces six to eight major exhibitions annually; offers artist talks, film screenings, and readings; and publishes the Archive–a quarterly art newsletter. A membership program offers activities and benefits, and a research library is an invaluable and unique resource for special studies. The Museum is operated by The Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization which is tax-exempt under section 501(c)3 of the IRS Code.
The museum, at 26 Wooster Street, is located just south of Grand Street, in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Admission is free, and hours are Tuesday through Sunday, from 12 to 6 p.m., and Thursday, from 12 to 8 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and all major holidays. The museum can be reached at 212/431-2609. For more information, please visit the museum’s website at www.LeslieLohman.org.