The Museum of the City of New York is currently presenting Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York, an exhibition that explores New York’s role as a beacon for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) artists seeking freedom, acceptance and community. The show runs through February 26, 2017.
Gay Gotham, according to press notes, “peels back the layers of New York City’s LGBTQ, or queer, life that thrived even in the shadows to reveal an often-hidden side of the city’s history and underscore the power of artistic collaboration to transcend oppression.” The exhibition examines the worlds of New York’s famous LGBTQ cultural innovators, as well as those of ordinary citizens and identifies historical trends that led to the increased visibility of LGBT artists over the course of the 20th century.
“New York City, an international source of creativity throughout its history, provided the canvas, stage, and backdrop for LGBTQ artists and cultural innovators, and helped make it possible for them to transcend oppression and discrimination,” commented Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York, in a statement. “Gay Gotham not only exhibits, but also celebrates the vibrant lives of artists who were suffering from injustice, and offers optimism for tomorrow.”
The exhibit brings to life the queer networks that sprang up in the city from the early-20th century through the mid-1990s — a series of artistic subcultures whose radical ideas had lasting effects on the mainstream. It also explores the artistic achievements and creative networks of ten individuals.
Gay Gotham features 225 works from a mix of iconic and lesser-known LGBTQ artists, whose work is presented chronologically: composer Leonard Bernstein; playwright, poet and novelist Mercedes de Acosta; activist Harmony Hammond; dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones; arts impresario Lincoln Kirstein; artist Greer Lankton; photographer George Platt Lynes; artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; artist and author Richard Bruce Nugent; and artist Andy Warhol.
Curated by Donald Albrecht, MCNY curator of architecture and design, and Stephen Vider, MCNY Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, the exhibition includes paintings, drawings, photographs, sound recordings and films that explore queer artistic achievements in music, the visual arts and theater during the 20th century.
Some of the works featured in the show are Bernstein's own annotated copy of Romeo and Juliet, the inspiration for the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story, alongside original drawings of the production's sets and costumes; a circa 1970 handmade, collaged scrapbook by Robert Mapplethorpe that includes images of friends and lovers like Patti Smith; Arnie Zane’s video of Keith Haring hand painting the body of Zane’s partner, dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones – a collaboration of three leaders of the 1980s queer downtown art scene; and several of artist Greer Lankton’s dolls, including a life- size one of Diana Vreeland made in 1989 for a Barney's display window.
On the impetus behind the show, Curator Albrecht explained: “While exploring New York City’s gay artistic communities in past shows here at the Museum, I found them to be consistently hidden in plain sight and thought an exhibition ‘un-hiding’ these queer networks would be a revelation. Gay Gotham is the result, and I hope visitors gain an understanding of the cultural communities that formed as a response to injustice.”
For more information, visit Gay Gotham.