A Dream Project Died – No Lesbian Art Show in Frankfurt am Main

Art and love are two unpredictable things. We love them both because the both aim at taking us to a sublime state of mind. Some kind of art are however less popular. ‘Lesbian art’ is an especially tricky subject to promote as a lot of negative ideas and biases are linked closely with it. The awareness about lesbian art is very low. This story is about the dream of organising ‘Lesbische Existenz im Bild’, the first ever show of contemporary lesbian art in Germany as project team leader Sylvia G. has told it to me.

Frankfurt Rhine-Main, with a total population exceeding 5.8 million, is the second largest metropolitan region in Germany. It is situated two hours’ drive south of Kassel. Kassel is the Mecca of contemporary art every 5th year, when it hosts the big famous documenta art show of modern and contemporary art. Sylvia G. had high hopes that her city would to be good place to present the first public group show of lesbian art in Germany. For the last 2-3 years she and her project team have been working voluntarily without any pay besides their fulltime jobs on finding a venue for the show. However not much of the innovative spirit of documenta has rubbed off on the art scene in Frankfurt am Main. Nobody loved the idea of hosting a lesbian art show.

Sylvia G. explains: “We contacted eight possible exhibition places or institutions in Frankfurt and surroundings – some more, some less renowned. There were – amongst others – four very famous art institutions / exhibition places in Frankfurt and even two women museums. For different reasons none of them were willing or able to show or arrange our exhibition on our minimum conditions. Our minimum conditions were:

  • The exhibition must be a single exhibition – not part of another exhibition.
  • The word “Lesbian” has to appear in the title.
  • Artists must be lesbians or must have been in the past (no art of male artists showing lesbian depiction).
  • The presenting art institution must take share in the costs.”

“There were a total of 25 artists who were interested and agreed to participate in an excibition. Amongst others: Antje Doll (DE), Anja Müller (DE), Anne-Kathrin Coordes (DE), Martha Ambrocio, Christiane Buck (DE), Ute Nolte (DE), Risk Hazekamp (NL), Anna Leopolder (DE), Conny Kunert (A) and Martina Minette Dreier (DE).”

The ‘Lesbische Existenz im Bild’ exhibition project aimed at presenting contemporary art by German speaking lesbian artist, thus giving the German audience a chance to learn about lesbian lifestyle and the way lesbians express themselves through art and culture. The project team believes that lesbian artists make a valuable contribution to the world and it is important to raise the awareness about lesbian artists in Germany. The team has offered to share their contacts with lesbian artist and general research about lesbian art with the art institution and give the art historians of the venue the honor of curating the show. Furthermore the team had a nice carrot. – The carrot that the city council of Frankfurt am Main really wanted to see the exhibition realized and had offered to refund the highest budget item (expenses of approx. EUR 25.000 to 30.000) as related with a lesbian art show, but that was not enough for any of the eight Frankfurt art institutions to accept to curate and host the first lesbian art show in Germany.

The project team was given several explanations by the arts professionals at the different art institutions as to why they would not support the project. Sylvia G. remembers: “One women museum feared for the money of their sponsors if they made a purely lesbian exhibition. The other one did not want to be curator as they usually are. They just offered to rent the rooms to us. The curating, media work, literature and financial risk would have been all ours.” “The answer we heard most often was: “There is no such thing as black art or Jewish art. And so there is no LESIBAN art. There is just ART for the sake of art itself.” Another answer we heard quite often was: “It’s better to wrap a subject like this into another outfit or packaging. For example: Showing an exhibition on SUBCULTURE. But all artists are lesbians. Then people come to visit SUBCULTURAL ART but actually they see lesbian art and can so make contact with the subject of lesbianism.” – This is exactly what we did not want at all…… Another answer was: “We are absolutely tolerant and have nothing against lesbians at all but we are not sure about our sponsors and regular guests. So sorry….” Sylvia concluded: “We did not find much innovation or courage.”

Now Sylvia G. and her team have decided to cancel the ‘Lesbische Existenz im Bild’-project in Frankfurt am Main. Spiritual seers and clairvoyant teachers tell us that we are creating our future (tomorrow) by the way we think and feel today, but that we are unfortunately also very much conditioned by the society in which we live. – Only a few private galleries in the world can actually write on their resume that they have presented a contemporary lesbian art show. I don’t know if there are any public art institutions at all in Europe which has hosted an out and proud lesbian art exhibition, but one still feels sorry that the time isn’t right yet for the first public exhibition of contemporary lesbian art in Germany.

Berlin: gender_gap Paintings by Martina Minette Dreier and Sadie Lee

gender_gap by Martina Minette Dreier (Berlin) and Sadie Lee (London) at Schwules Museum in Berlin, October 5 - November 22 2010.

Paintings from the 'Doing Gender' series by Martina Minette Dreier
Paintings from the ‘doing gender’ series by Martina Minette Dreier

The Berlin painter Martina Minette Dreier paints portraits of people, who don’t and won’t identify themselves as either men or women. Among these are transgendered performers such as Ades Zabel, Océan LeRoy, Miss Debra Kate or the Spicy Tigers on Speed. Since 2004 Minette Dreier has been working on a series titled “doing gender”. Now her series consist of 49 painting and about 500 drawings. Minette explains that she made this series in order to comment the traditional portrait paintings’ role as a media which tells about the sitters social status, and use the status of the medium to make paintings of  ‘gender outlaws’ and draw attention to them, something which they do not often get. Minette Dreier says, “doing gender” offers (…) freedom and creates a situation in which the reliable distinction between male and female gets lost.

Paintings from the Doing Gender  series by Martina Minette Dreier

Paintings from the ‘doing gender’  series by Martina Minette Dreier

The gender_gap exhibition at the Schwules Museum consists of a selection of Minette’s ‘doing gender’ series and portraits by the London painter Sadie Lee from Sadie’s series ‘And then He was a She’. This series are paintings of transgendered actress Holly Woodlawn, who is one of the last surviving members of Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’ inner circle, the star of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s cult films ‘Trash’ and ‘Women in Revolt’. These paintings feature the first time that Holly has allowed herself to be presented publicly out of drag. These are not just pictures of a man dressing as a woman; Holly is both male and female and neither. Sadie Lee says, ‘I want to paint her as she is now’. And she has made a ‘study of the representation of the ageing body, and the ambiguity of gender.’

Paintings from the series 'And then He was a She' by Sadie Lee
Paintings from the series ‘And then He was a She’ by Sadie Lee

The Opening
Martina Minette Dreier and the Schwules Museum in Berlin invites you to the opening of gender_gap:

Opening October 4 2010 19:00
Schwules Museum EG (eingang 1. Hof)
Mehringsadamm 61
10961 Berlin

Paintings from the series 'And then He was a She' by Sadie Lee

Paintings from the series ‘And then He was a She’ by Sadie Lee

Related links
Sadie Lee’s portfolio ‘And then He was a She’
Doing gender
by Martina Minette Dreier

Martina Minette Dreier – Female World

Text by Martina Minette Dreier

Female World: Black Diamond by Martina Minette DreierIdentity, yearning, and power: these are the themes central to my work. Who am I? How do I want to be? How do others look at me? And how am I able to reach a destination yet unknown, towards which some indistinct yearning is pushing me? Who can help me find my way?

The importance of role models dawned on me one day as a I lay in front of the tv.  I suddenly realized that I had been watching a soccer game for a full 10 minutes. For years I had tried in vain to develop enthusiasm for this game. So why was I interested now? It was women’s soccer, and there on the field were twenty two people with whom I could possibly identify.  This seemed to make all the difference.

My interest in role models was aroused, and I was eager to discover more. For instance, a picture of Black Diamond, female leader of the rebels in Monrovia, surrounded by her female bodyguards. This, they told me, was another possible way to be female. This could be you.

By doing a big drawing of Black Diamond, a new idea unfolded: I could create my own universe of role models, of alpha females; my “Female World”.

Of course I needed female artists as role models, colleagues from all generations. Traditionally, art historians have focused far more on the work of male artists, but it is clear that there are many female artists as well! So, whenever I come across a picture of a female artist, I draw a little portrait of her, a star-postcard. These postcards form the series “My Ancestors”. For exhibitions, I arrange them as a sort of genealogical tree and include myself, intertwining myself into this constantly growing net.
Besides this tree, there are the godesses influencing the fate of the artists: the female curators, gallery owners, directors of museums, art critics, all drawn and collected in the series, “To Be Worshipped”.

Above: ‘Female World: Black Diamond’, 200×100 cm, by Martina Minette Dreier  – The text in the background is a quotation by Moliere: ‘The power is where the beards grow’.

Yvonne, drawing by Martina Minette Dreier

My Ancestors: Yvonne P. Doderer, drawing by Martina Minette Dreier

My Ancestors: Jenny Holzer, by Martina Minette Dreier

My Ancestors: Jenny Holzer, drawing by Martina Minette Dreier

Fiona Banner by Martina Minette Dreier, 2007

My Ancestors: Fiona Banner, drawing by Martina Minette Dreier

My Ancestors: Louise Bourgeoise by Martina Minette Dreier

My Ancestors: Louise Bourgeoise, drawing by Martina Minette Dreier

My Ancestors: Alex Mc Quilkin by Martina Minette Dreier

My Ancestors: Alex Mc Quilkin, drawing by Martina Minette Dreier

To Be Worshipped: Giti und Susi Nourbakhsch Martina Minette Dreier

To Be Worshipped: Giti und Susi Nourbakhsch, drawing by Martina Minette Dreier

To Be Worshipped: Ingvild Goetz by Martina Minette Dreier

To Be Worshipped: Ingvild Goetz, drawing by Martina Minette Dreier

Installation view My Ancestors by Martina Minette Dreier in AREA 53, Vienna, Austria

Installation view of ‘My Ancestors’ by Martina Minette Dreier in AREA 53, Vienna, Austria

About Martina Minette Dreier
Martina Minette Dreier is a German painter and queer woman. She has studied painting and illustration at Fachhochschule Bielefeld in 1988 – 1993 and she is now living and working in Berlin, Germany.

Related Links
Martina Minette Dreier’s websites: www.doinggender.de and www.minette.de