Brett Abrams

Gay Art at Art Basel

Filed By Brett Abrams | December 15, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Art Basel, gay art, Jasper Johns, lesbian art, Miami Beach, Rauschenberg

Where was the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or queer art in Miami Beach? We know that family members were everywhere. Art Basel draws over 2,000 artists from around the world and they fit into every genre with sections for recent works, performances, cinema, art in public places and discussion forums with the artists themselves. It is promoted as the most important show held in the United States.

Art Basel is an inundating experience according to those who have visited. The Convention Center is transformed into aisles of booths filled with galleries often showing as pieces from as many as ten artists. Shipping containers formed the "white walls" two dozen galleries to show their wares on the beach.

Certainly the affair is filled with fine art galleries showing many well-known artists and artistic works. Another group focuses on the genre of art, whether conceptual, trans-national, and other aesthetic trends dating back from the 1960s and running through today. However, the affair drew galleries with artists addressing a variety of cultural and political issues. One Brazilian gallery showed the artistic diversity of the country and merge the artistic and the political.

I asked a few people who attended about GLBTQ art. Some said that they did not notice any and they mentioned the vast amount of work displayed. Others said that they were kind of glad that the event did not have gay art, fretting over the notion of labeling things with the term "gay" as part of the old ghettoization mentality that they are glad has passed.

What art did this person have in mind? Few would draw the direct equation between lesbian and lesbian art, or gay and gay art. Yet, would the creator's sexual behavior and interest not have any influence on their works. A few months ago historian Jonathan Ned Katz argues for a gay presence in the works of the recently deceased artist Robert Rauschenberg, citing a variety of examples during the era when he and Jasper Johns lived together.

Is gay art male nudes? Are lesbians producing drawings of figures? An artist who showed at Art Basel noted that on this kind of level few if anyone would make gay art. He claimed that as art markets broaden themes have to broaden in order for the work to sell. References to HIV that this artist believes were explicit in his use of a red cross did not translate that way to potential purchasers. Many could not get beyond a literal religious interpretation despite having the artist standing beside them offering his intent.

Several gay artists argued that the decline in oppression has influenced the production of GLBTQ art. Interestingly, one of the few gay art pieces that I found attached to Art Basel came from an artist protesting the oppression of Vladimir Putin. Here's Charlie the Gay Doll

Tell me what you saw at Art Basel.

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I exhibited at Basel Art in Basel during the 1970's. Many artists were experimental with "idea" conceptual art (non-material), but mostly there were dealers searching for the latest Hockney that they could make a fortune off of.
Robert Rauchenberg, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring were gay men, but their ideas and art works were sold to museums and to private collections as universal. This was about merchandising material objects and being promoted by the formonst art dealer of the day as a hot shot investment. It fed into the capitalistic markets. Not so with the Bauhaus for example, where the artists were about ideas and making the pure and simple functional.
"Gay Art" is homoerotism some of it sick aka Tom of Finland. Cartoons of Big dicked musclemen licking leather boots of Nazi SS men. Not something I would want hanging over my sofa.
Artists today could be making social change, such as Joseph Beuys who formed the Green Party as a peice of "social sculpture". Some are. The trap to artists is that they think they have to be famous and sell their work at high prices. In ancient Japan, the final art object was not important. It was the enlightenment, experience and inner growth gained personally by the artist of doing the work that was important. Raku pottery for example.

I would challenge you to successfully define "gay" art once you have subtracted the pornographic and the homoerotic. I'm not sure you or anyone can do it. I also don't think we should be doing it.

Thanks for your comments. No question that these men you mentioned were sold to a broader audience, precisely the point my friend/artist made about changing the themes that he worked on to appeal to a broader audience.

I wonder if Haring and his work on HIV and political issues is not a version of gay art, something more than simple homoeroticism.

Isn't the Charlie doll also beyond that narrow definition of gay art?

I disagree. You obviously define art the old fashioned way, as figures drawn on paper or painted on a canvas. I think films and literature are the most powerful forms of art today because of the power to rise above politics and religion. Gay themed art can be used to educate, and to change homophobia in our larger society. Art can be used to subtly influence popular conceptions about diversity and being gay.

Is gay art male nudes?

That's even what I think of it. I mean, when there's a "gay art" exhibit or art gallery, that makes up a good deal of it.

Keith Haring was already mentioned, and I think that he was definitely making some gay art. And it wasn't just male nudes, although his stick figures sometimes had their dicks out, ha ha. I like Keith Haring a lot.

When I do Queer music Friday, though, my definition of "Queer music" is if the artist identified as LGBTQ in some way. I know that's definitely oversimplifying, but it's the only standard I can really go by, considering how few queer musicians will write songs about their queer experiences, or how many straight artists sing about gay stuff, like that "I kissed a Girl" song. Blech.

Sorry I didn't address the Charlie Doll. The concept is good, but not provocative enough. It needs symbolism, such as the upside down pink triangle in back of the Rabbi, and a Koran with cum on it in back of the Arab. The idea is to stir up controversy as the controversy becomes part of the art piece. A fatwa on the artist by a Muslim cleric would make the work internationally known and thereby creating world awareness, for instance.
Art shouldn't just stop at the wall in the gallery, although galleries should be contratulated for encouraging artists with a place to exhibit. Art should permeate society with it's message.
Here is a better link to Charlie Doll.

Doesn't "gay art" = "art made by gay people"? If that's the definition, I'm assuming there was a LOT of "gay art," but it might have been so well made, you just couldn't tell the artist's sexuality. :)

Yes, gay art does mean it was made by gay people. Michaelangelo's The Sistine Chapel is a good example of gay art. The muscular eroticism of god and Adam with a sensitive touch. It's hot. Many a priest and cardinal has gone there to masturbate.

I think that "gay art" needs to directly reference the GLBTQ experience, such as Kara Walker explores being black in the US directly with her silhouette images.

One artist who is getting attention here at the Hirshhorn Museum is Mary Coble. She has a variety of works referencing hate crimes, electroshock treatment and other past and present issues.

Thanks for the link. Amazing work. Creating alot of interest and awareness about hate. Society is dead from electronic images. To shock their senses. That's what art should be.

I received this email that I'd like to share.
Gallery Exhibits 'Tough Love'
The exhibit examines gay rights in the wake of California's "Prop 8" and the Westboro Baptist Church's recent demonstrations.

Weston, Mass. – "Tough Love," the second of three art exhibitions exploring themes of social justice, examines gay rights, same sex
marriage and anti-gay rhetoric through the eyes of two artists, Daren Young and Andrew Graham. The show opens with two receptions on Dec. 18
in the Thompson Gallery at The Cambridge School of Weston.

The exhibition, "Tough Love," titled as such because "tough can be seen as 'difficult to understand' considering homosexuality, or any
sexuality…it can also be seen as strong, resilient, and able to withstand, and in that sense, talks about the power of truth," Graham

Young, an openly gay artist and activist in Salt Lake City, Utah, presents his multimedia "Virtual Wedding" and an autobiographical series of drawings, which chronicles his personal story as he came to
acknowledge his sexual identity.

"As the audience views my art, I want it to evoke their own individual memories or life experiences regardless of whether they are straight or gay," Young said. "I hope to generate greater understanding and
awareness of what it means to be different and outside the center, especially as it relates to life in our often very conservative community."

Graham, a 1999 CSW alumnus from Brooklyn, N.Y., creates painted replicas of the placards which Rev. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., used during their protests at various events, including gay pride gatherings, military funerals, religious and political gatherings.

"My overall personal vision extends beyond these signs and slogans, however, to address themes of queerness, orthodoxy and 'American tribalism,' I combine stylistic associations with abstract
expressionist and pop art movements, and optical elements from various world cultures and religions, as well as references to my own
experiences," Graham said.

In the context of the exhibition "Tough Love," Young's and Graham's work offer a glimpse of two marginalized groups advocating for
opposing shifts in thought.

"It is not an attempt to tackle the whole argument, nevertheless it acts as a portrait, a contemporary snapshot of our cultural dilemma
around alternative lifestyles and rights, or the lack thereof, regarding the interpretation of our most cherished laws and ideals.
Ultimately, "Tough Love" questions morality in our cultural and private 'pursuits of happiness.'" said Todd Bartel, Thompson Gallery
director and visual arts teacher.

"Tough Love" opens Dec. 18, and coincides with CSW's End-of-Mod Art Show, which presents community art, from 10 to 11 a.m. and from 4 to 7

The show will be closed during CSW vacation, Dec. 20 through Jan. 5,reopening on Jan. 6, and running through Feb. 6, 2009. A gallery talk
will take place Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009.

Interesting artists and gallery. "pursuit of happiness". Wow. They get it. Sorry I won't be in Massachusettes to see it. Hope the show comes to California.

Daren Young, one of the artists exhibited in our "Tough Love" exhibition just forwarded the link to this blog and I am pleased to see that our show has been brought into a dialog outside the confines of our small campus. I am happy to consider and make arrangements with a gallery in California—should one be interested to see this show travel. Check back to the gallery website in the next week or so, as I should have the exhibition images uploaded by then. If anyone has a question for Andrew Graham, Daren Young or for me, we will be happy to respond. With your permission Mr. Abrams, I would like to post a link on our website to this blog, in hopes of engaging our students in this important dialog.

Please, feel free to link up. Since then I went to the Nayland Blake retrospective at Location One and saw a vibrant presentation of queer art.
Here's a link: