Sitting in an airy, sun-drenched gallery at Wrightwood 659 in Lincoln Park, Jonathan David Katz says sexuality is like enjoying the taste of broccoli, or at least it should be. Katz is curator of the new exhibit “About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art.”
Katz said the mission of the exhibit is to challenge the idea that binaries divide us. He explained some people like broccoli, and some don’t.
“It’s a clear difference in taste. It could be used to divide us,” he said. “It doesn’t.”
The curator said sexuality should be seen in the same way, and the show presents “sexual difference as a clear difference among people, but not one of any particular merit that causes us to become a different kind of person.”The show features nearly 500 works. Katz defined queer art by its subject matter, not necessarily the identity of the works’ artists.
Many of the artists featured in the exhibit have never shown in the U.S., or been exhibited at all. A series of never-before-shown photographs by Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S., are on display. Katz said he found the black and white photographs at the San Francisco Library. They feature sculpted men in motion and self-portraits.
Another artist featured, who may be new to local visitors, is Canadian painter Attila Richard Lukacs. His works include a large-scale canvas of his partner Jermaine, wearing prison garb above the words “Convictions Make Convicts.”
Curator Katz said Jermaine was convicted for having cannabis, and the work is a commentary on who and what the criminal justice system penalizes.
The works focus on celebrations in the lives of the artists and their subjects, like a projection of films of the early pride parades by filmmaker and activist Kate Millett. And brightly colored, detailed photographs with perfectly placed composition by Indonesian artist Leonard Suryajaya. The part-time Chicago artist captures mundane and special moments featuring his family and his partner.
But, the exhibition can’t — and doesn’t — ignore the reality that AIDS played in the lives of many of the artists.
Beginning in the 1980s, photographer Gail Thacker took polaroids of people in her social sphere, many of whom had the disease. Then, the photographer sealed the photos in plastic for decades and they decayed. Curator Katz said Thacker’s photography “sought to materialize and make visible what is often only alluded to, the actual physical degradation” of AIDS on the people in the photos. He added that some of the polaroids are “memorials to people who are no longer with us.”
Katz said the title, About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art, is a little tongue in cheek. Of course, it partly pays homage to this year’s 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. The riots arose from a series of violent confrontations between police and LGBTQ residents, and it has found its place in history as the “start” of the gay liberation movement.
“It’s just not true,” Katz said. The curator and visiting professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at University of Pennsylvania said Stonewall is a “convenient beginning” for the fight for gay rights, but there was a queer movement for many decades before. And, he added, many see Stonewall as a symbol for separating gay and straight culture, but the leaders of the movement aimed to do the opposite. Katz said they meant to show that “beneath the superficial differences, in the most fundamental ways, we share a resident, common humanity.”
“About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art” runs through July 20 at Wrightwood 659.