An Exhibit to Revisit

Published in: July-August 2024 issue.


Stonewall, Revolt, and New Queer Art
by Jonathan D. Katz
The Monacelli Press. 272 pages, $65.


JONATHAN D. KATZ is a pioneering historian and curator working in queer and gender studies. He co-curated the 2010 exhibition, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D. C. Featuring painting, drawing, photography, installation, and media images of lesbian and gay identity in the 20th century, the sumptuous catalogue is a keepsake with its contextualizing essays and exquisitely produced plates of over 100 works.

            In 2019, Katz curated About Face: Stonewall, Revolt, and New Queer Art for Chicago’s Wrightwood 659’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. About Face featured over 350 artworks by 38 international LGBT artists. Focusing on underrecognized interracial and multi-gendered artists across generations, Katz challenged prevailing cultural norms, which tend to overlook bipoc and trans folks in favor of assimilated white and cisgender people. The show was a provocation for righting the canon of queer æsthetics.

            Katz’ intention was to “transcend a world of binary options, whether they be gay/straight, male/female, minority/majority, or conformist/nonconformist” and to focus “on art in which boundaries blur, forms mutate, the natural is denaturalized, and the transgressive and transcendent are linked.” Initial reviews didn’t know what to make of this audacious spectacle. The New York Times described it as “the most unconventional of the Stonewall anniversary shows,” while the critic for New Art Examiner was “all turned around” by the exhibition’s “dizzying, infuriatingly overwhelming map.”

            A new catalogue for About Face published by Monacelli Press includes elucidating essays and texts by Julian Carter, Anthony Cianciolo, Amelia Jones, Ava L. J. Kim, Joshua Chambers-Letson, Christopher Reed, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Dagmawi Woubshet. This lushly designed book with 300 illustrations is proof of concept for Katz’ curatorial vision. Well-known American artists such as Nick Cave, Keith Haring, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Peter Hujar are included, but more noteworthy is the introduction of Tianzhuo Chen’s and Leonard Suryajaya’s color-saturated photographs, Bhupen Khakhar’s figurative paintings, and Keioui Keijaun Thomas’ and Del LaGrace Volcano’s performative tableaus.

            While the primary focus is on the new, the tapestry is enhanced by deceased artists. Representing the Bay Area are Harvey Milk’s early photographs from the 1950s, with both candid and formal portraits, and Jerome Caja’s irony-infused paintings created with day-glow colors as he was dying from AIDS. Greer Lankton’s tawdry sculptural dolls remind us of her ’80s East Village New York. Also included are Amos Badertscher’s annotated black-and-white photographs of Baltimore street hustlers (in an exhibit reviewed by Steven Dansky in the March-April 2024 issue of this magazine).

            Katz’ hope was to “push the viewer out of the familiar, to offer a series of imaginative journeys into other logics and realities beyond the categorical imperatives we know.” His ambitious state-of-the-field survey succeeds in capturing the ever-evolving hybrid intersectionality of queer æsthetics. The exhibition and its accompanying book, About Face, add immensely to this process. _______________________________________________________

John R. Killacky is the author of Because Art: Commentary, Critique, & Conversation.