Homomuseum: Heroes and Moments, Exit Art’s current exhibition, spotlights the work of twenty-seven lesbian / gay / bisexual / transgender (LGBT) artists. The show’s title reveals its concept; to represent alternative histories and icons traditionally ignored. Curators Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo asked artists to choose a LGBT hero or moment in history to represent in a hypothetical museum in their honor.
The show’s works vary in media; video, performance, installation, archive; as well as politics of gay representation. Artist Rune Olsen pays homage to the Bonobo Ape, being the species that scientists have recently observed engage in genito-genital rubbing with the same sex, dispelling the idea that being gay is unnatural. Other artists, such as JP Forrest, dedicate their work to gay figures they see as role models, especially in their struggle to express their sexuality. Forrest depicts scenes from the life of Sal Mineo, an actor who was openly gay during the hostile 1950s. On the other hand, the late artist, Alvin Baltrop, takes on a documentary approach. From 1975 to 1986 he captured the lifestyle of gays living on the fringes of society in the abandoned NYC West Side Piers.
However, the most successful works use art practices that compliment the values and virtues of their subject. A fine example is Gabriel Martinez’s Black Bird Confetti, which tributes his hero, the late artist and gay activist, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Gonzalez-Torres is most esteemed for his conceptual work, which responded to the sense of loss and solitude created by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Unlike traditional memorials made of strong, lasting marble and granite, GT created works from ephemeral material in order to emphasize the transience of life. One hundred seventy five pounds (the ideal male body weight) of individually wrapped candies spilled on a gallery floor make up GT’s acclaimed Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.). As visitors take away the candy, the diminishing pile parallels the weakening body of his lover who had suffered and eventually died of AIDS. Martinez adopts Gonzalez-Torres use of impermanent materials by creating a heap of black bird shaped confetti. Moreover, he quotes his hero by adopting the image of the solitary black bird from GT Matrix billboard series. Martinez use of ephemeral materials seems appropriate for a LGBT exhibit because their place/representation has transformed and changed throughout history.
Milton Rosa-Ortiz demonstrates the changing perception of the homosexual in history in The Sacred Band in Elysium. Hanging shell casings used by the US military map out the old world, as the purple locates the victory path of his hero: Alexander the Great. The artist’s statement shares lesser-known facts of history’s great warrior. Alexander’s preference for male companions, and his embrace of Muslim culture at the end of his life are the downplayed aspects of his life that Rosa-Ortiz reveres because they complicate the character that history has been projecting.
Artists Geoffrey Hendricks and Sur Rodney’s Faggot Monument to Homosexuals Burned in the Middles Ages, recalls a dark period of extreme intolerance toward LGBT life styles. In tracing history of homosexuals back to the Medieval Era, the artists highlight the second significance of the word faggot; the bundles of branches used in to burn “heretics” at the stake. The common slur, in a different era and distinct context nevertheless conveys the continuous persecution of homosexuals throughout history. Furthermore, the work attempts to reverse this continuous oppression by revealing a faith in the variability of meanings via representation. Their monument is a wooden frame topped by a heap of faggots, which also houses a chair and desk. The artists instruct visitors to write on tags the names of homosexual figures throughout history. Eventually, the tags will be attached to the faggots. At the end of the exhibition the faggots will be burned “in the spirit of Buddhist or Hindu cremation—prayers carried into the sky with the smoke,” while the artists read the names in their honor. Their performance seeks to simultaneously mourn the past and reclaim their lost dignity.
If one were to draw a conclusion from the collective statement of the show, it seems that employment of non-traditional media befits LGBT heroes. The use of new and unconventional art practices honors those who affirmed and championed their sexual difference in the best and possible way As implied by Ak Burns’s statement for Fountain of Salmacis (A Heart for Jack), queer is not just sexuality; it’s a way of life. And what way is that? Multifarious. In celebrating this motley culture, Exit Art does not project one solid representation of LGBT, rather succeeds in delivering multiple heterogeneous answers.