On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life

Exhibition dates: August 14 – October 25, 2015
Venue: Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York
Public Opening: August 14, 2015, 6 – 8 pm

On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life features some 70 works drawn mostly from the Leslie-Lohman Museum collection and answers the age-old question, “What do LGBT people do when they’re not having sex?” The artworks range widely in subject matter, medium, and style, cover the period from early 20th century to the present, and offer a suggestive panorama of LGBTQ lives in the United States that – until now – has been neglected by museums, galleries, and historians. Exhibition dates are August 14 to October 25, 2015 with an opening reception from 6 to 8 pm the evening of August 14.

The exhibition’s theme is timely in a decade that has seen the unprecedented mushrooming of same-sex marriage, child-rearing, and domesticity increase in acceptance both legally and socially. The thrust of queer politics has shifted from asserting our right to be different and erotic toward demanding the right to do what everyone else does. “Domestic front,” is a military metaphor that stresses the essential contribution that daily living must continue even in wartime, as with the soldiers during war on the “battle front.” Living queer lives has long been an active battle front in America’s ongoing culture wars. Now, the queer fight has shifted from our right to be different toward the right to be “normal” and unremarkable. Queer genre imagery is a weapon in our battle to secure what we might call the radicality of the ordinary.

On the Domestic Front will contribute to a long-running socio-political debate within the LGBTQ world: are we, apart from our sexuality, “just like everyone else,” or alternatively, do we have a distinct sensibility or style (or many of them)? Homemaking is an act of everyday social performance, a way of realizing and expressing a sense of self and a sense of belonging. Home life, in practice, can often be a source of pain, yet the idea of home always promises more – love, friendship, comfort, pleasure, and the possibility of reinventing them all. The exhibition is divided into the following four thematic sections: home, work, play, and fantasy.

Home presents domestic interiors and everyday life: individuals, couples, and families in living rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms; as well as in “homes away from home”, such as hotels, motels, RVs, and hospitals. A group of works by Saul Bolasni, (theatre and costume designer, illustrator, and painter) records the comfortable post-war gay men lifestyle of many urban dwellers. Numerous works on display attest to the wide influences of Paul Cadmus and Jared French (PaJaMa), especially in intimate domestic scenes. Fayette Hauser’s photographs of the Cockettes, the path breaking San Francisco performance troupe founded in 1969, help illustrate a communal household where they made their own clothing from thrift-store finds, developing a raucous, glittery form of “hippie drag.”

Work focuses on the feminist goals of breaking down occupational gender stereotypes and increasing access to employment and independence. It also documents the lesbian feminist movement of the 1970s through the vision of photographer Joan E. Biren, who exhibited her work as JEB. A cofounder of lesbian feminist collective The Furies, JEB captured the energy of the emerging institutions of the movement, from women-centered music festivals to photo collectives and feminist auto repair shops. Cathy Cade living in an apartment in Berkeley during the 70s describes her household as being staged with meaningful objects from each member of her home: wrenches and other tools for her lover Kate, an auto mechanic; a toy fire truck for Kate’s son, Guthrie; female nudes and clay pots sculpted by their friend, Pat; and cameras for Cade.

Play includes social and recreational activities and spaces from gyms and swimming pools to vacation homes, bars, clubs, and theatres. In this section, a photograph by Del LaGrace Volcano, Sunset Strip Soho, Anastasia and Allegra, London, playfully portrays a couple’s night out at a London strip club.

Fantasy depicts social scenes that are wished for in the mind rather than observed in the body. We see this imagined through contemporary artist Caleb Cole’s photograph, Refinement and Elegance, with its portrayal of Cole who takes on the persona of what was once called a “piss-elegant queen” with a passion for collecting and decorating.

Although the exhibition’s images examine aspects of our lives that are “just like everyone else’s,” three longrunning debates hover over them: Do we perform these activities in distinctive “queer” style(s)? Do we represent them artistically in a distinctive way? And, do we look at such images differently? After all, we create domesticity, and illustrate it, out of a lifetime of experiences and emotions that are inevitably different from those of straights, and queer spectators view any narrative scene through the multiple lenses of identity and history. The exhibition’s diverse works demonstrate the uniqueness as well as the universality of everyday queer life. It is a unique opportunity to see works from the Museum’s collection (and some strategic loans) that in some cases, never been exhibited.

On the Domestic Front: Scenes from Everyday Queer Life opens to the public on August 14 and runs through October 25, 2015. There will be an exhibition catalog available with exhibition images and subject essays by James Saslow, Stephen Vider, and Cookie Woolner. Docent tours will be offered during the run of the exhibition with a full schedule to be posted on the Museum’s website. (LeslieLohman.org)

Related Link

Picturing a Lesbian Feminist Household: Cathy Cade Interviewed by Stephen Vider, 2015.