WHAT MAKES A WORK OF ART QUEER? WHO DECIDES?
So, you clicked through to see what the queer art show was all about. Well, relax. Not even all of the art is “queer art.” Don’t get me wrong; there’s definitely sex stuff. Though, if that’s your only expectation of queer visual culture, you may need to check out some of the educational resources below.
Mostly what you’ll find here is art that spoke to me and challenged me, as I was exploring UMMA’s collection for queer themes.
The truth is, I had some trouble figuring out what “queer art” is myself. What makes a work of art queer? Is it the sexual identity and/or gender expression of its maker? The subject matter? Who decides? To me, defining “queerness” and then assigning that definition to works of art felt like an exercise in the kind of categorizing I was trying to resist.
Also, UMMA’s collection doesn’t offer a fully representative view of queer lives, experiences, and art practices. It has limits — it tells certain stories while omitting others. All museum collections do. (Check out Unsettling Histories for another exploration of this idea). So, I decided to ask a different set of questions: How does my own situated point of view, as a queer man / graduate student / art historian at the University of Michigan, frame my reading of what is present and absent in this collection? And how can I translate my encounters to you — the online museum visitor who maybe just wanted to see sex stuff?
The answers are three. First, I sought out works of art that would allow us to question categories of gender and sexuality and the power dynamics that operate within them. Second, in the physical space, I arranged the objects so that they could respond to one another and even challenge one another (we will try to recreate that in this online space as well when the show officially launches this winter). Third, I tailored the gallery texts to promote questions and thought rather than provide fixed interpretations, inviting you to arrive at your own meanings.
So, relax, honey. This is your show as much as it is mine. It’s not perfect. The collection isn’t perfect. But, it’s a start.