LGBTQ Pride: Are We Growing Too Comfortable?


“About Face: Stonewall, Revolt, and New Queer Art,” on view at Wrightwood 659 through August 3rd, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn, widely considered the flint-strike of the gay liberation movement.

The Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar, like other LGBTQ spaces around the nation, was a target of regular police raids and violence against patrons. The bar served as a gathering space for some of the most marginalized people in the queer community, including drag queens and transgender people of color. They were often assaulted and terrorized due to perceived infractions as arbitrary as wearing clothes that were considered gender inappropriate. On June 28th, 1969, when police harassed patrons, they responded by violently resisting in ways that broke norms of passive protest.

Now, we look to the three days of riots that followed as catalyzing the contemporary American gay rights movement and its gains many years later. It is important to remember that the fight for equal rights and basic safety for members of the LGBTQ community persists today.

The exhibition itself reads like an essay bursting at the seams with work meant to support its arguments. It attempts to be a survey of LGBTQ art before and after Stonewall, to spotlight overlooked artists, and serve as a 50-year marker that we can use to see both progress and a lack thereof.

Curator Jonathan Katz arranges almost 500 works into a smart structure, circling the idea of "trans-ness." The show evolves across four sections: Transgress, Transfigure, Transpose, and Transcend. His thesis focuses on the complexity of identity, suggesting that rather than bolstering the LGBTQ as an isolated community, the ultimate legacy of Stonewall is the movement of our entire culture towards embracing individual specificity that breaks gender and sexual binaries— female/male, gay/straight, etc.

Most of my time went to Transfigure and Transpose. Here are some of the most mesmerizing works but also the most challenging questions. These sections point toward reorienting how we identify and classify bodies and the exchange between queer and heteronormative culture.

Tianzhuo Chen's videos grip the room. Light Luxury / - Aisha Devi, 2018 and G.H.O.S.T., 2017 are arranged facing one another with interlocking sound. Chen mixes mythological and political symbols to create dreamlike situations where bodies feel animal-like, god-like, and powerful. It's with these works that I see the potential in the show to trust the audience with the ineffable and unclassifiable quality of queerness. In another instance of this, Jacolby Satterwhite's Blessed Avenue, 2019 switches between footage of the artist spontaneously dancing in public places and a 3D-rendered sci-fi landscape where the limitations of site and body are left behind.


Jacolby Satterwhite (American, born 1986) Blessed Avenue, 2018. 3D animation and video, duration: 19 min., 19 sec. © Jacolby Satterwhite; courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photo courtesy of Wrightwood 659.


There is plenty of artwork on view that is exceptional, but the show's ambition suffocates many. The viewer is so inundated with photographs, bodies, and histories that inserting breathing room could have benefitted any one of the mini-retrospectives. But this packing in, the ever- present explanation and anxious guidance of the viewer through the show by didactic text seems born of ecstatic energy. As many artists are included, just as many more could have possibly been included as well. Who wouldn't want to maximize the opportunity to show as many artists that have been ignored or overlooked as the museum could hold? There is so much to say that the show is breathless.

Across the exhibition, local names and largely unknown artists shine among blue-chip heavyweights. Leonard Suryajaya's cacophonous and colorful photographs Hold, 2016, and Greetings, 2015 are perfectly tuned moments filled with emotionally charged figures but also an uncanny silence. Attila Richard Lukacs's Lady and her lover on a night of storm, 2015 holds its own, front and center, at the entrance of the exhibition, directly across from a site-specific Nick Cave commission.

Meanwhile, the Tadao Ando-designed interior signals immediately—this place is a museum, and it draws on the architectural legacy of many museums that have come before it. Aesthetically, the building carries with it the weight of authority and the complicated aftertaste of an institutional voice. I'm divided on the merits of having a show that had potential to embody queerness in this space.

On the one hand, the privately-owned Wrightwood 659 is funded by the Alphawood Foundation, which promotes the protection of LGBTQ rights and describes itself as an advocate for "an equitable, just, and humane society." In that light, this space should feel permissive, vigilant even, when compared with the many boards of trustees across the art world that benefit from liberal facades while maintaining the status quo in business. But I also worry that queerness is visually constrained in this space and somehow the aspiration that we will one day disregard gender and sexual orientation as measures of difference flatten a voice that has been hard won.

It feels like many of the questions I've been asking myself during LGBT Pride Month are present here—some of them more comfortable to answer than others. How is pride commodified, or, in this case, what is the relationship between queer pride and the institution? How do art institutions and, more broadly, any entities with power avoid shallow performance of awareness and instead contribute to the equality and safety of LGBTQ people? Is the goal of pride to eliminate markers of difference or to recognize the right of difference to exist—to demand that it have space? How do we situate this conversation today within a resurgence of authoritarianism and fundamentalism around the world, most vividly during the presidency of Donald Trump? As every corporate logo goes rainbow this June, are we too comfortable?


"About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art" is on view at Wrightwood 659 through Aug 3, 2019. The space is located at 659 W. Wrightwood, Chicago, IL 60614.


Sara Rouse is an artist and writer living and working in Chicago, IL. She received her B.F.A from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2012 and her M.F.A. from the University of Chicago in 2015. Follow her work at and on Instagram @sararouse.


Tianzhuo Chen (Chinese, born 1985), Light Luxury / - Aisha Devi, 2018. Single-channel video, 5:12 minutes. Courtesy of Tianzhuo Chen and Long March Space. Photo courtesy of Wrightwood 659.

Leonard Suryajaya (Indonesian, born 1988), Hold, 2016. Archival inkjet print, 36 × 28in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo courtesy of Wrightwood 659.

Leonard Suryajaya (Indonesian, born 1988), Hold, 2016. Archival inkjet print, 36 × 28in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo courtesy of Wrightwood 659.

Attila Richard Lukacs (Canadian, born 1962), Lady and her lover on a night of storm. Oil, asphaltum, and polyurethane on canvas, 106 × 79 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo courtesy of Wrightwood 659.



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