How Today’s Queer Artists Are Revising History

By revisiting and refuting the cultural history of the West, this group is using time as its primary medium, looking backward to inform a different kind of gay future.

Comments: 35

  1. Long. Worthy. Worth reading again. Which I will. For now let me thank you for two particular items: the hats-off to Larry Kramer's mad, infuriating, and magnificent work (Pt 2 in January! I didn't know!) and for calling to my attention the Frank Rich quote re honor and escape But I must admit I am jealous of all those plays you have seen. Down here in Alabama's Black Belt those are not part of our regular diet.

  2. Thank you @JesseKGreen. This comment written knowing that if you are not aware of their work already (unlikely), how much you'll appreciate it, and recognize the omission of the work of Kent Monkman, a.k.a. Miss Chief Eagle Testikle, the First Nations artist of the Fisher River band, whose Trickster revisiting (I'd say 'rewriting' but we're talking paint) of the colonization of Turtle Island is extraordinary, unforgettable, and essential to the points you are making.

  3. "Sometimes it's just waiting for an artist to go rummaging in the attic"--or a writer. To go back into the past even further, these incisive artists may find plenty of inspiration in the biography of Alexander Humboldt, "The Invention of Nature," by Andrea Wulf. Talk about a man of consequence! There will certainly be consequences for all of us if we don't accept that from the very beginning, human culture has been driven by incredible men and women whose particular genius seems inseparable from their non-binary sexual identities.

  4. This isn't exactly "refuting" the cultural history of the West. That's a bit of hyperbole. All of these themes have been done before.

  5. Mention could also be made for Rupert Everett reviving The Judas Kiss and then his film of The Happy Prince? and thanks for including John Dugdale whose photographs I've long admired, and featured recently in the documentary film Vision Portraits by Rodney Evans

  6. I am troubled by this article, particularly by Debbie Grossman's Pie Town images and the celebration here of them as an imagined celebration of queer space. The impetus for the original WPA photographs of Appalachian families was to make visible poor Americans suffering during the Depression, in the hope that their visibility would encourage efforts to alleviate their poverty and misery. The act of making them visible was an important and critical political act. And now I am seeing those historical individuals, laid bare in their poverty, effaced yet again at the very site where they were made visible in the name of politics, this time for a politics of queer inclusion. Apparently including oneself, however figured, in a history where one is not readily found is more important an act than honoring the history of social justice and the media that enabled it. The effacement of the poor in the name of queer identity (in an article that trumpets $3000 dresses in another photo) seems to me just another power grab by those who have the technology, education, and access to media to remake history in their own image. It's about class, really, again, still. For the real deal, perhaps see the work of Donna Gottschalk, who did not imagine a fake women's rural history, but lived and documented a true one. We should be making new lived histories, not Photoshopping the past into a gentrified space where all the original voiceless residents have been forced out.

  7. @Robert I'm trying to stay woke, but struggling. In another context, wouldn't this be called cultural appropriation?

  8. Bad enough the Okies were dirt-poor and dust-choked, and burying their babies by the wayside; but now they have to be reimagined by gay artists who, in comparison, are very well off. The lack of imagination in these artists is staggering.

  9. I agree no one should try to hide the photoshop. Yet, I don't think the artist intended to hide that or displace the originals, but rather add to them. These edited photos give voice to people both poor and queer, two identities too often separated rather than left together—people who, yes, likely existed in these communities, too, whether they were readily found by the WPA or not. Queerness is so often linked with worldliness, culture, upper class, and "sophistication," while impoverished or rural areas are so often stereotyped as bastions of homophobia, "traditional values", and crudeness. But here is art (art, not document, and yes the framing is important) imagining unquestioned queerness within impoverished spaces in the past, refuting the idea that queerness is some bourgeoisie invention. As a gay man with a working-class background, I appreciate the intersectionality.

  10. Am I really like these gay artists, in their vision that is so preoccupied with one tiny aspect of life, their sexual orientation and all that is made of it? I find some interest in these matters, but I also think the beautiful things in the world are the most ordinary, spontaneous, and reflect the human spectrum much more than this Wildean obsession with beauty and the male only culture. I find it quite stultifying and morbid. What happened to the funnybones world of Charles Ludlam which wasn’t really that gay, but was delightful. (In « Galas » for instance, a world-weary Callas gazes out the window and cracks “ I shoulda been a dentist”! This is humorless and self-important by comparison. And quite xenophobic.

  11. Amen, MaxCornise. And thank you so much for the Charles Ludlum shoutout. His joyous wit and humanity opened my eyes. That —not this—is what art can do.

  12. @MaxCornise "tiny aspect of life"?! if who we partner with is so "tiny", then why do ordinary people (straight or otherwise) waste tons of money throwing engagement parties, bridal showers, bachlor/ette parties, rehearsal dinners, the actual wedding, rings/dresses/tuxes/hair/makeup, the honeymoon, and so on? so minor, right? homophobic comment. be gay, but not *too* gay.

  13. This article has me wondering how utterly confused the Internet will make future generations and how many more untruths will be passed off as facts. Already I’ve seen 19th century photographs of female (heterosexual) opera singers in costume for “boy parts” are being incorrectly identified as lesbian wedding photos of yesteryear. What a tangle of misidentified, digitally manipulated falsehoods! How many legitimate experts will be dismissed as “fake news” when they attempt to correct the misconceptions. I realize this is the way history has always worked, but I can’t help but think the Internet will escalate the myths.

  14. @AreJaye rightly points out the range of "misidentified etc., etc." judging the various works. My perspective is that people can do as they like with their lives. I am in no position to judge them, however, my personal choice would be to find content that is traditional, uplifting, hopeful. This would be other than what I see in these works as dark, depressing, and easy to do. Just dress up, find some props, and shoot away with nothing evident in the way of thought or message other than the Queer life is here - and we should all drown in it.

  15. A beautifully written piece with real depth and range, I enjoyed reading this article more than anything else I have read in the NYT in a long while.

  16. @David Bow Let’s agree to disagree. It has the depth of a perfume commercial and the significance of a dust ball!

  17. There is something deeply offensive about the combination of this article's discussion of the representation of social injustice (which I found very moving) and the use of those same ideas to sell luxury goods.

  18. Thank you for writing this.

  19. Forever defining more and more differences among people is not ‘being woke,’ it is alienating and divisive. Yes, I am queer but I am also gay and I am also a man and I am also human. Focusing on just one aspect of my life and making it stand for all that I am is dehumanizing, ignorant and, ultimately, hateful.

  20. So tiring, boring, and empty. There was a time when art was focused on the divine and majestic. I guess this art still is, except for the fact that the deity is now the Self. It, in fact, is no secret that people of the same sex have been having sex for the entirety of humanity. All that's new here is the undying preoccupation with one's own "identity". I cannot wait until we progress past this. There will be a time when the mirror-staring ends, then we can go back to looking at the world. None of this will be remembered or celebrated. Because it's empty. All full of Self. What the in-vogue cultural critics celebrate as "progressive" and "groundbreaking" today will die in history. It's meaningless.

  21. great article

  22. By directly addressing gayness before art, this article offers opinions on fashion and social justice, but lacks any deeper insights. There have been many gay artists old (Davinci) and new (Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg,etc) that have made significant contributions to art without directly addressing their homosexuality because they were striving for a larger artistic vision. It is fine to be gay and photoshop gender and genre bending images, but in the end you will likely only be repeating stereotypes and preaching to the woke choir.

  23. Sorry, NYT, but you lost me at the shopping links incorporated into the article. Unsubtle, and demeaning to the work. I pay for a full subscription to support journalism and art; you are playing with fire.

  24. Perhaps the NYT employee who wrote the sub-header will weigh in with a comment explaining what on earth it means. Word salad!

  25. Creative genius has no sexual form.

  26. I have no need to revise or revoke the history of the West, which has given us Chartres and Capability Brown landscapes, Shakespeare and Dickens, Leonardo and Monet, Beethoven and Dvorak. Photoshopping is clever but not creative, and it runs the risk of obliterating what was. Gay people have always existed in the forms society and their own needs required or permitted at the time. The late 18th century had the "ladies of Llangollen," and the 21st century has gay Americans sharing Social Security benefits. Gay people can live their lives much more easily (perhaps not, however, in Muslim countries, Africa, or the Caribbean). And not for much longer here if the GOP gets to choose yet another Supreme Court Justice. Photoshopping already burdened Americans to make them gay? Really?

  27. Based on the comments- looks like breeders can’t handle too much art.

  28. @Thom for real!

  29. Altering the cultural production of the past to support a contemporary narrative is risky business. We'll need some sort of guidelines to decide when to approve of this practice and when to condemn it. I doubt Goebbels gets a pass. Someone with serious guts needs to try replacing the American founders with black people. Oh, wait...

  30. More like a new generation of me-me-me’s are hijacking the very essence of gayness with self-proclaimed identities having nothing to do with their actual sexual desires, if they even know what real sex is. Talk about “pose.” I had obnoxious straight neighbor bro’s host a “gay” party with only one actual gay thing attending: a hideous (no doubt to them transgressive and ironic) gold helium balloon spelling “gay.”

  31. From John Simon's obit from last week:" “I do not like uniforms,” Mr. Simon told the author Bert Cardullo in 2008. “I do not like people who are a professional this, that or the other. Professional writers, actors and singers are O.K., but I don’t like professional Jews, professional homosexuals, professional blacks, professional feminists, professional patriots. I don’t like people abdicating their identity to become part of some group, and then becoming obsessed with this and making capital of it.”

  32. As a Native woman I find this revisionism inspiring! Great article & kudos to these artists.

  33. One of the finest overviews of contemporary LGBTQ fine art I’ve read in a long time. I know that my experience as a gay man influences my work and outlook. Of course an artist’s homosexuality informs his/her work and acknowledging that fact helps bring greater understanding for the viewer.

  34. some of these comments make me wonder if the heteros think that the only gays that exist are rich white gay men? all of the pearl clutching over the photoshopped 1940s images by the straights - your straightness blinds you to the wonder that every gay - including myself, a lesbian - has wondered as they come out to themselves "am i the only one? why isnt there more of 'me'?" especially in non-urban areas. reimagining the past, as if being LGBTQ wasnt a crime against humanity back then, lets you day dream of what life could of been like for closeted LGBTQs in the 1940s if society were more accepting. how do you know that some of those in the original pictures were not secretly closeted and just living a hetero life to be safe? then again, this is a different world than the one i came out in a decade ago. the ultimate privilege of the heteros is never having to question any of this. but for us LGBTQs who had to come to terms with "not being normal" - seeing a major aspect of our lives being portrayed as "normal" and "always been that way" is refreshing. completely unsurprised that the straights cant handle it.

  35. Amazing piece! Clearly, not all contributors to the art of the Gay Community can be mentioned , but Robert Mapplethorpe's photos, recently at the Guggenheim, deserve special mention here for their eroticism and their boldness and the controversy his opus caused both in life and in death. He had a radical impact on gay art and culture in the time of AIDS!