On June 1, the Des Moines Art Center will open Queer Abstraction, on view through September 8, 2019 in the Anna K. Meredith Gallery and the I. M. Pei building. Queer Abstraction will be the first exhibition in the Des Moines Art Center’s 70-year history to focus exclusively on queer sexuality and gender identity. It marks a substantial shift in the Art Center’s programming by purposely including queer voices that have largely been left out of art history. Furthermore, it is the first museum exhibition in the U.S. to focus on this subject matter. Assistant Curator Jared Ledesma is organizing the exhibition.
For more than a century, many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer artists have turned to the language of abstraction to illustrate diverse facets of sexuality and gender. In response to specific struggles — such as the criminalization of homosexuality, the Civil Rights Movement, and the AIDS crisis — queer artists have embraced abstraction to communicate their unauthorized desires and identities through an accepted mode of art. Marsden Hartley’s modernist portrait of his fallen lover, Louise Fishman’s queer feminist canvases, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ tender, conceptual works are but a few examples. Currently, abstract art that embodies this mode of expression has gained the moniker “Queer Abstraction,” and has become a growing aesthetic force during the present, unsettling era. This exhibition unites contemporary artists who utilize the amorphous possibilities of abstraction to convey what it means to exist on the margins.
Installed in the Art Center’s Anna K. Meredith Gallery will be a large-scale canvas by Mark Bradford, a suite of paintings and drawings by Edie Fake, tapestries by John Paul Morabito, and table-top sculptures by Sheila Pepe. Critical works by Math Bass, Elijah Burgher, Mark Joshua Epstein, Harmony Hammond, Nicholas Hlobo, Carrie Moyer, Prem Sahib, and Jade Yumang will also be included. Featured in the Art Center’s brutalist I. M. Pei wing will be an immersive installation of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ beaded curtain “Untitled” (Water) — spanning a total of 114 ft. — partially surrounding Tom Burr’s significant sculpture Deep Purple, which extends beyond a section of the building’s glass windows and travels over the reflecting pool. Situated in the Pei wing’s lower level will be two of Jonathan VanDyke’s freestanding “net” paintings, which both disrupt and parallel the building’s architecture.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with an introduction and artist entries by Jared Ledesma, and an essay by David Getsy, the Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of
Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Getsy is the author of Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (2015), and the editor of Queer (Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art series, 2016).
Queer Abstraction will travel to the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas, opening on November 21, 2019, and closing on March 8, 2020.