Years ago, in 2007, I was on assignment for this very publication, covering a World AIDS Day event where keynote speakers and performers were taking the stage. One of the performers wore an intriguing half-man-half-woman outfit, matching hair (style), and makeup. The performer and performance demanded to be immortalized for posterity. And so, I captured an image and called it “Identity.”
Identity ended up being featured in the Fresh Fruit Festival show, a (then) annual group art show hosted by the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art — first in Strike a Pose — Gender Identity in 2008, curated by New Jersey performing artists Lovari and Lady Clover Honey, and then again in Crossing Boundaries, curated by the New York City photographer and indie curator Heidi Russell.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art has always showcased work by artists who dare cross and push boundaries, and that captures the identity of an individual or a community. In that sense, the museum offers a “home” to LGBTQ artists, activists, and allies alike, and a “safe space” where they can “engage in meaningful and authentic art experiences that foster empowerment and community building.”
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art bears the name of its co-founders — Charles W. Leslie and J. Frederic “Fritz” Lohman — who, during the summer of 1969, organized and then hosted their first “exhibition of gay artists” in their apartment. It’s worth remembering that this was a time marked by the Stonewall riots and other civil-rights uprising events, and yet a time when “simply possessing a photograph of a male nude, regardless of its artistic quality, was an imprisonable offense.” Still, that very first Leslie-Lohman exhibition gathered several hundred guests.
Since then, the museum has continued to provide “a platform for artistic exploration through multifaceted queer perspectives, [and embrace] the power of the arts to inspire, explore, and foster understanding of the rich diversity of LGBTQIA+ experiences.” Nowadays, with an impressive collection of 25,000 objects and a research library of over 3,000 volumes, the museum continues to cultivate “experimentation and research” through educational platforms, programs, publications, and exhibitions.
Examples include the 2017 exhibition, FOUND, curated by artist Avram Finkelstein, or the annual façade commission, QUEERPOWER, which debuted that same year with a museum-site installation by the Silence=Death collective for the 30th anniversary of the poster with the same name. The remaining members of the collective — Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Charles Kreloff, Christopher Lione, Jorge Socarras, and Sally Johnston (representing her brother Oliver Johnston (d. 1990)) — attended the award ceremony in an emotional and powerful reunion.
A couple of years later, in 2019, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art celebrated World Pride Month through a series of related art shows and exhibitions. Art After Stonewall, 1969-1989, was one of those memorable shows, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. (Some might remember the tag, #Stonewall50, populating the social media sites at the time.) The art show attracted many viewers, including students (and their instructors) attending summer school in the city and visiting the museum as part of organized field trips. Curated by Jonathan Weinberg with Tyler Cann and Drew Sawyer, Art After Stonewall, 1969-1989 was “the first major exhibition to examine the impact of the LGBTQ civil-rights movement on the art world.” The exhibition included over 150 works by artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, and many others.
Yet another art show worth mentioning is OMNISCIENT: Queer Documentation in an Image Culture. Curated by artist and activist Avram Finkelstein, OMNISCIENT was on view from June 2021 to January 2022. It featured the work of “more than 40 artists navigating […] rapidly evolving visual languages through various strategies.” It featured artwork that spoke of “queer monumentality” and “intergenerational memorialization” and which “mark[ed] the legacy of twentieth-century visual histories while negotiating the accelerating image cultures of the present.”
This summer, The Leslie-Lohman celebrates Pride with two new shows — Coyote Park: I Love You Like Mirrors Do, and Images on which to build, 1970s-1990s.
On view until July 16, I Love You Like Mirrors Do features photography work by two-spirit, indigenous (Yurok), Korean-American multimedia artist Coyote Park and examines the “deep bonds” between “loved ones, lands of origin, diasporas, and queer, trans, and indigenous kin.” Because, as the artist reflects, “we are all mirrored refractions of one another.” Inspired by “photography’s unique capacity for world-building,” the show also debuts the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art’s Interventions Series, which engages artists in dialogue with the museum’s collection of over 25,000 works.
On view at the Leslie-Lohman through July 30 and curated by independent writer and curator Ariel Goldberg, Images on which to build explores the “activism, education, and media production in trans, queer, and feminist movements” of the 1970s to the 1990s. The show features an extensive photographic collection, from fine art to personal snapshots and protest documentation, through which it informs and inspires, and also analyzes photographic practices “through which influential image cultures were constructed and circulated” and “that ignited knowledge, production, and sustained belonging to resist a status quo […] hostile to trans and queer existence.”
The show is organized in six sections and features the work of influential artists, activists, and collectives, including Nan Goldin, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Hunter Reynolds, ART+Positive, Saskia Scheffer, the GLBT Historical Society, Morgan Gwenwald, and Visual AIDS.
“Presenting trans and queer image cultures from this time creates spaces beyond the visual,” writes curator Ariel Goldberg,“ where felt experiences of affirmation, recognition, and connection form legacies to shape our present and future.”
Throughout the years, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art has continued to showcase timely and timeless work that teaches about the past and captures a vision of a better and brighter future, all while highlighting the reality defining our present. The artwork brings to mind the words added at the bottom of the Silence = Death poster, on its 30th anniversary, as it graced, yet again, the windows of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art: “Be Vigilant. Refuse. Resist.”
Check out a few more of the pieces on display at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art below or visit online at leslielohman.org.