I don’t think I could have been more proud of my cultural history as a gay man than I was last Saturday on Queer night at the Brooklyn Museum.
What could be more empowering than to dance to Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel,” with hundred’s of LGBTQ people of diverse ages, ethnic, and racial backgrounds surrounded by priceless works of art in one of the oldest and largest art institutions in the United States?
The evening was to celebrate the ongoing Hide/Seek exhibit, and I knew it was going to be special as I entered the building. The museum, which I have been going to since I was a child, seemed transformed by the energy of the crowd. People were milling about, laughing and expressing affection with ease. There were two venues for music, live and DJ. And, although I usually hate standing in line, I waited patiently to enter the exhibition, feeling like I was part of something monumental that night.
HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture is billed as “The first major museum exhibition to focus on themes of gender and sexuality in modern American portraiture.” It was originally exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery with some controversy and will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum until February 12, 2012.
The exhibit documents the contributions of LGBT artists from the 19th century to the contemporary era. It was a lesson in art history, and I learned not only about the impact of LGBT artists, but that many famous works were created by artists that I never knew were gay. The works included in the exhibit tell us the story of gay life through the eyes of great artists of their day. For example, I was struck by the soulful expression in “Arnold Comes of Age,” Grant Wood’s self-portrait (the painter of American Gothic). He shows us how difficult it is to be a gay man in Middle America in 1930. A walk through the exhibit documents the pain and suffering, joy and daring these great gay and lesbian artists endured through their work. As the exhibit moved into the contemporary era, the impact of AIDS and works of current artists, I was able to reflect on my own life as a gay man, and could see how my experiences fell into a context of gay liberation and identity formation documented in art.
And, later, on the dance floor I felt deep gratitude for all the LGBT artists, activists, and people from all walks of life, who through their work and existance helped create a world where I could hold my husband’s hand at the Brooklyn Museum and feel proud of being gay.
To find out more about the exhibit go the the Brooklyn Museum.