Queer arts have been gaining momentum and paying healthy homage to history as they take root in Brooklyn. On the heels of an eventful December with World AIDS Day events throughout the city, Illegitimate And Herstorical opened at A.I.R. Gallery on January 5. Curated by Emily Roysdon (a collaborator with MEN and a founder of “feminist genderqueer” artist collective LTTR), Illegitimate And Herstorical is one of the strongest group shows culled from open-call submissions that I’ve seen of late.
L.J. Roberts stole the spotlight with her colorful and textual “The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in The Three Towns of Breukelen, Boswyck, & Midwout in the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era” (referring to the uprisings that sparked the gay rights movement in the late 1960s) (2011). The large knit piece takes up an entire wall and cascades onto the floor. It is covered with the names of current queer collective houses painstakingly embroidered. A section of gold fabric in the middle of the piece depicts a map of the houses, and at the end of the fringes there is a sea of scattered 1” buttons which are free for the taking. Honoring queer traditions (like the AIDS quilt), as well as the practices of sharing and do-it-yourself activities, Roberts undoubtedly infused the gallery with exuberance and a sense of community.
Photographic works, like those by Alice O’Malley, Bland Boydston III and Tobaron Waxman, at times seem nostalgic and at other points has an air of current and palpable tumult. While Boydston’s work is predominantly self-portraiture, O’Malley provides photographs from a bygone era (namely the 1990s) of queer culture in New York. Her photos are playful and in their presentation give an air of a wall inside of a loved one’s home, a tribute. O’Malley’s work in content reminds me of the work of Alvin Baltrop, but these are more light-hearted.
In sculptural works, both Rachel Farmer and Lucretia Knapp re-imagine histories, personal and otherwise. Farmer’s “Ancestors Setting Down Their Handcarts For The Night” (2011) transformed a traditional narratives of ancestry on their head by inserting female figures in every role. Women are depicted comforting other women and performing manual labor in her small clay figures.
Lucretia Knapp’s “Notorious” has a tongue-in-cheek air, featuring a photographic print of a young girl with a gun, and an accompanying wooden box contains five miniature guns with the names of famous and infamous feminists, like Angela Davis and Valerie Solanas (the author of S.C.U.M. Manifesto who attempted to murder Andy Warhol in 1968), as well as convicted murderer Aileen Wuornos and Bonnie Parker (of the Bonnie and Clyde criminal duo).
Another particularly poignant piece was Chris Vargas’s “Liberaceon,”(2011) a fictional soap opera of Liberace’s life in which he attempts to feed “Ronnie” (Ronald Reagan) chocolates infused with his own HIV positive blood. On his deathbed, Liberace begs his younger lover not to allow AIDS stories to be retold as sappy melodrama and not to remember Liberace by a name on an AIDS quilt. Dripping with irony, the critiques here remain relevant.
Not to be missed, Illegitimate and Herstorical continues for most of January, while still more rumblings of rebellion through queer art circles permeate about the city. Quorum (“Queers Organizing for Radical Unity and Mobilization”), which is a three-week long festival of workshops, skillshares and performances, began on January 14. The extravaganza kicked off with “Queer That Museum Chat: Unofficial Docent Tour and Discussion of Hide/Seek” at the Brooklyn Museum and L.J. Roberts co-organized “Not Over: Me, You, Us & AIDS Supported by Visual AIDS and Queerocracy,” a lecture and screening series beginning Saturday, January 21.
Illegitimate and Herstorical runs through January 28 and ends with a closing party at A.I.R. Gallery (111 Front Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201.