Spanning 125 years, Art and Queer Culture is the first major historical survey to consider the ways in which the codes and cultures of homosexuality have provided a creative resource for visual artists. Attempts to trouble the conventions of gender and sexuality, to highlight the performative aspects of identity and to oppose the tyranny of the normal are all woven into the historical fabric of homosexuality and its representation. From Oscar Wilde to Ryan Trecartin, from the molly houses of eighteenth-century London to the Harlem drag balls of the 1920s, the flamboyant refusal of social and sexual norms has fuelled the creation of queer art and life throughout the modern period.
Although the book proceeds in a chronological fashion, it does not propose a progressive narrative in which homosexuals become increasingly adept at negotiating the circumstances of censorship and overcoming the terms of stigma and invisibility. The dialogue between art and queer culture does not move towards ever more affirmative images of equality and dignity. Rather than countering homophobia with ‘positive’ images of assimilation, many of the artists and photographers featured in this book draw upon, and even draw out, the deviant force of homosexuality.
Art and Queer Culture includes not only pictures made and displayed under the rubric of fine art but also those intended for private, underground or otherwise restricted audiences. Scrapbooks, amateur artworks, cartoons, bar murals, anonymous photographs, activist posters – all appear in its pages, as do paintings, sculptures, art photographs and video installations. Writing queer culture into the history of art means redrawing the boundaries of what counts as art as well as what counts as history. It means searching for cracks in the partition that separates ‘high’ art from ‘low’ culture and in the divide between public achievement and private life.
The inclusion of the word ‘queer’ in the title is a considered choice. No single word can accommodate the sheer expanse of cultural practices that oppose normative heterosexuality. In its shifting connotation from everyday parlance to phobic epithet to defiant self-identification, ‘queer’ offers more generous rewards than any simple inventory of sexual practices or erotic object choices.
The editors of Art and Queer Culture, Catherine Lord and Richard Meyer, have assembled a complete overview of the subject in three sections. Their definitive Survey essay recounts in detail the ways in which art has constructed, contested or otherwise responded to alternative forms of sexuality, from the emergence of homosexuality as an identity in the late nineteenth century to the pioneering ‘genderqueers’ of the early twenty-first. The Works section presents large full-colour images of over 250 key artworks, each accompanied by an informative caption. And the Documents section provides a generous archive of primary and secondary texts, including artist’s statements, exhibition reviews, personal manifestos, sociological essays and critical writings. The extensive back matter includes biographies of all the artists and authors plus a full bibliography.