Leslie Lohman Museum

On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life

Curated by James M. Saslow
Funding provided by the John Burton Harter Charitable Trust
August 14 - December 6, 2015

Despite stereotypes of erotomania, LGBTQ folk actually spend much of their time doing what everyone has to do: eat, wash, exercise, make a living. By World War I, queer artists were documenting their daily lives. These images, drawn primarily from the Museum’s collection, illustrate ordinary queer existence at home, at play, at work – and in dreams.

Such scenes are called “genre”–depictions of everyday life. They hold special importance for queers, who seldom see themselves in mainstream culture and hunger for images that validate their reality. Genre feeds three realms: personal, political, and historical.

In personal terms, one’s home interior helps create the interior of the self, and identity enables community. As historian George Chauncey remarked in Gay New York, “the world created by homosexuals in the city’s streets, cafeterias, and private apartments became the crucible in which they forged a distinctive gay culture.” Politically, domesticity is timely as the queer struggle shifts from the right to be different toward the right to common experiences. “Domestic front” is a military metaphor, and the visual representation of queer domestic lives is one battlefront in this culture-war. Third, genre images chronicle social history; since few queers grow up with queer parents, these snapshots are the closest thing to a collective family album.

These artworks contribute to a longstanding debate: Are queers, apart from sexuality, “just like everyone else,” or do they have distinctive sensibilities? These images of the queer quotidian demonstrate both uniqueness and universality.

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Barney

Amateur theatricals at home: lesbians in antique costume perform a sapphic dance in Natalie Barney’s garden, Paris, ca. 1920, photographer unknown.

Segal

George Segal’s sculpture, Gay Liberation, 1979, near Sheridan Square. It took 13 years to overcome straight Villagers’ resistance to an image suggesting gays and lesbians were ordinary neighbors.

Oswald

Film still from Anders als die Anderen, directed by Richard Oswald in Germany, 1919. The earliest film to treat contemporary gay life.

Volcano

Del LaGrace Volcano, American (b. 1957)
Sunset Strip Soho, Anastasia and Allegra, London, 1999
Digital C-print, 29.25 x 25.25 in.
Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum, 2013.6.6, Foundation purchase

Among the first photographers to explore lesbian S&M, Volcano is concerned, both in art and life, with validating lesbian masculinity. Intersex by design, Del was raised female, but now identifies as both genders. Like many of Volcano’s images, this peek into the neon glare of a London strip club does double cultural work: it documents a social world and its androgynous style in recent queer women’s culture, and it focuses on the couple’s gaze at the performer, implicitly claiming for women the same right to gaze upon erotic objects as men traditionally enjoy.

Dubbed “the gay Toulouse-Lautrec,” Angus received recognition only late in his AIDS-curtailed life for his incisive yet compassionate interiors of seedy porn theaters, baths, and strip clubs in Manhattan’s now-gentrified midtown. The hushed interior of his studio might seem remote from the world outside, but the artist’s face hints at their connection. The three-quarter view, a traditional indicator of a self-portrait using a mirror, adds to his wary, somber expression. A lifelong outsider, Angus was drawn to the loneliness beneath the Tenderloin raunch.

Angus

Patrick Angus, American (1953-1992)
Self-Portrait as Picasso, ca. 1980s
Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 40 in.
Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum, 2004.1001.0006, Gift of Douglas Blair Turnbaugh

Cole

Caleb Cole, American (b. 1981)
Refinement and Elegance, 2010
Archival pigment print, 13 x 19 in.
Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum, 2015.41.1 and 2015.41.2, Gift of the artist and Gallery Kayafas, Boston

Cole

Caleb Cole, American (b. 1981)
The Hotel Room, 2010
Archival pigment print, 13 x 19 in.
Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum, 2015.41.1 and 2015.41.2, Gift of the artist and Gallery Kayafas, Boston

The ability to imagine oneself in a different identity is crucial to transgender self-realization; Cole turns that mental flexibility to professional advantage. Each tableau constructed in his series, Other People’s Clothes, germinates from some item of clothing he imagines a person to fill and the environment such a character would occupy. The result is a cryptic conjunction of person, place, and things hinting at an elusive narrative. This gentleman poses superciliously amid art and furnishings that imply a wealthy, cultured existence—a parodic homage to “piss-elegant” pre-Stonewall queens as depicted in Saul Bolasni’s watercolors displayed on another wall.

Another invented character in an interior from Cole’s Other People’s Clothes series, this forlorn figure huddles in a plain hotel room, in a pose at once dreamy, apprehensive, and vulnerable. Though voyeuristic, these “silent film stills” also display a deadpan empathy for their subjects, who, though they may be of any gender, age, or class, project a core of isolation and bafflement.

Silombria

Marco Silombria, Italian (b. 1936)
Terrace II, 1985
Oil and pencil on canvas, 43 x 58.75 in.
Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum, 2006.5334.001, Gift of the artist

The style of this hushed backyard idyll – high-key colors, bleaching light, and hazy shadow suggesting an eternal summer of easy pleasure – recalls Silombria’s success as an advertising designer. In other phases of his varied creative career, he has dealt more explicitly with gay themes through such subjects as classical mythology and in his work as an activist and illustrator with Fuori, Italy’s pioneering queer organization.

Explore the sections

At Home

At Play

At Work

Fantasy

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