How Today’s Queer Artists Are Revising History

By Jesse Green
Debbie Grossman’s “Jessie Evans-Whinery, Homesteader, With Her Wife Edith Evans-Whinery and Their Baby” (2010), from her “My Pie Town” series. Inkjet print, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase, Charina Foundation Inc., gift © Debbie Grossman, courtesy of Julie Saul Projects, N.Y.
On the whole, queer art, which fully emerged from the closet in the 1960s and 1970s — around the same time people in great numbers did — has mostly concerned itself with its own moment, as if to say, “Here I am.” That approach continues because, after all, each new microgeneration of gay people born to straight parents in a straight world must create itself and its aesthetics from scratch. Yet with works like “My Pie Town,” another approach has been emerging in tandem. You can see it in the American playwright Matthew Lopez’s two-part drama, “The Inheritance” (which opened on Broadway last month); and in art by Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, and McDermott & McGough, to name just a sample from various disciplines. The watchcry for these works isn’t so much “Here I am” as “There we were.” [More]
Accompanying this article are works by artists who are reimagining queer history — and art history, as well — by creating gay, lesbian and trans narratives that look backward, reinserting their lives and stories into the past. Some, like the artist Martine Gutierrez and the multidisciplinary duo McDermott & McGough, are exploring how previous eras might have looked and functioned had L.G.B.T.Q. people been more fully recognized, while others, like the photographers Catherine Opie and John Dugdale, are referencing bygone artistic codes and methods (for Opie, Dutch Golden Age portraiture; for Dugdale, 19th-century cyanotype processing, as shown here in 1999’s “I Could Not See to See”) to assert a visual legacy and a sense of dignity. John Dugdale, “I Could Not See to See,” 1999, Morton Street, N.Y.C., courtesy of the artist