Documentary footage from the 20th-anniversary commemoration of the Stonewall Uprisings plays at the entrance to the Grey Art Gallery. On screen, activists laud the riots sparked by Marsha P. Johnson from the stage, while protestors boo loudly from the sidelines. Under a large sign welcoming visitors to “Art after Stonewall, 1969-1989,” the video, produced by ACT UP’s guerilla video collective DIVA TV, sets the tone for an exhibit that explores how much has, and has not, changed for the queer community 50 years after the Stonewall Riots.
Opening tomorrow, April 24, “Art after Stonewall, 1969-1989” is the first exhibition to extensively survey art of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The exhibit is split between the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art and NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, with Leslie-Lohman presenting art mostly from the 1970s and the Grey displaying works from the ’80s. Each work on display fits into one of seven sections: Coming Out, Sexual Outlaws, The Uses of the Erotic, Gender and Body, Things Are Queer, AIDS and Activism, and We’re Here.
Curated by Jonathan Weinberg, Tyler Cann, and Drew Sawyer, the exhibit displays over 200 objects from the 1960s through 2010. From Laura Aguilar’s series Latina Lesbians to Marlon T. Riggs’ “Affirmations” and advertisements for Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s joint 1985 show, the works represent the sweeping diversity of the LGBTQ civil rights movement.
The exhibit does, of course, include seminal works of the LGBTQ arts movement, like ACT UP’s “The Government Has Blood on its Hands,” Keith Haring’s “Safe Sex,” and a “Silence = Death” t-shirt. But, what distinguishes “Art after Stonewall” is its commitment to documenting intersectional and underrepresented stories of the gay rights movement.
Perhaps taking in mind that the Stonewall Riots were, after all, ignited by a trans woman of color, “Art after Stonewall” highlights trans people, lesbians, and people of color in an art scene that often centers white, gay, male artists. The artwork on display ranges in subject matter and style: Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marsha P. Johnson represents Warhol’s “Ladies & Gentlemen” portrait series of drag queens and trans women recruited from midtown disco the Gilded Grape. Carmelita Tropicana, Uzi Parnes, and Ela Tro’s footage of “Memorias de la Revolución presented at WOW Café 1986, PS 122” documents the lesbian theater venue of Women’s One World Cafe. Ann Patricia Meredith’s series “Until that Last Breath: Women with AIDS” records meetings of the AIDS Foundation Women’s Support Group in San Francisco. And, Marlon T. Riggs’ “Affirmations” captures gay black men’s involvement in the gay rights movement throughout the ’80s.
Despite the intermediating 50 years, the art of the Stonewall era remains strikingly familiar today. Protest chants recorded on camera, like “Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia has got to go,” re-emerged in recent years at the Women’s March and other protests following the 2016 elections. The exhibit’s careful documentation of the methods used by ACT UP and other activist groups is a clever reminder to visitors of protest history.
Fifty years after Stonewall, the Leslie-Lohman Museum and Grey Art Gallery are documenting the diverse legacy of protest that drove the LGBTQ civil rights movement. As Gonzalo Casals, Executive Director of the Leslie-Lohman stated, “We believe that shows like ‘Art after Stonewall’ play an important role in bringing visibility to our communities, expanding the understanding of the history of our city, and empowering newer generations of queer individuals to continue to fight for LGBTQ civil rights.”