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American Art: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall  
page: 1  2  3  

Such powerful works as Little Got Rained On (1983) and The Annunciation According to Mikey Pinero: Cupcake and Paco (1984) visualize spiritually and erotically charged narratives, loosely based on the writings of Miguel Pinero, with whom Wong had an intense, stormy relationship. In Ms. Chinatown (1992) and other characteristic paintings of the 1990s, Wong explores multiple gender and sexual possibilities, as he fuses memories of his childhood in San Francisco's Chinatown with the glamorous and decadent representations of that community in Hollywood movies and tourist mementos.

Responses to AIDS

Artists have helped to articulate the diverse responses of the gay and queer communities to the devastation wrought by AIDS, which broke out in 1981. Angry about the seeming indifference of the medical establishment and about the widespread stigmatization of those diagnosed with the disease, some artists resolved to use their work as a tool to organize the affected communities to agitate for change.

Gran Fury, a collective formed by six New York-based artists, created bold and direct poster designs, such as SILENCE=DEATH (1986), which depicted the Gay Liberation pink triangle and the title/slogan in white against a black background. Disinterested in monetary rewards, Gran Fury donated most of their works to ACT-UP.

Frustrated both by the failure of scientists to develop a cure and by the impact of AIDS on its own members, Gran Fury largely withdrew from the political arena and produced its final (untitled) posters in 1993. Against a plain white background, inscriptions in small black type call upon viewers to contemplate the consequences of AIDS.

Donald Moffett is among the artists who dealt with AIDS-related issues in both street posters (such as his anti-Reagan He Kills Me, 1987) and exclusive, carefully made works, sold through prestigious galleries (such as the installation piece, You and Your Kind Are Not Wanted Here, 1990).

Félix González-Torres created an extensive body of work, which called attention to the spiritual and emotional impact of AIDS without engaging in simplistic rhetoric. In Bed (1991), a photographic image of an unmade bed, and other billboards designed for specific locations in New York, Los Angeles, and Munich, he expressed the conflict between public and private, experienced by those under surveillance by the government and the medical establishment because of their HIV/AIDS status and their sexual orientation.

In opposition to mainstream conceptions of persons with HIV/AIDS as isolated and stigmatized, artists have represented the strong families and communities that embraced them. In this vein, San Francisco-based photographer Albert Winn created deeply felt and intimate images, recording the experiences of himself and his friends, such as Brothers (1991) and Tony from My Writing Group (1994).

Duane Michals narrated responses to the deaths of loved ones in photographic tableaux, including Dream of Flowers (1986) and The Father Prepares His Dead Son for Burial (1991).

In Untitled (March 5th) #2 (1991), González-Torres utilized two bare light bulbs and extension cords to develop a complex piece to mourn the death of his partner, Ross Laycock.

Many artists have used traditional religious imagery in innovative ways as they sought to articulate their feelings about the losses caused by AIDS. For instance, Thomas Woodruff memorialized friends, such as Ruoy Eman (1992), through paintings of skulls, with Crowns of Thorns and other Catholic symbols. For these pieces, Woodruff utilized ornate frames, which recall Baroque altarpieces.

Delmas Howe spent six years working on Stations: A Gay Passion (completed 2001), an assemblage of sixty monumentally scaled paintings, drawings, and lithographs. Utilizing a figurative language ultimately inspired by the Italian Renaissance and incorporating numerous references to the Passion of Christ, this series celebrates both the intense sexuality of the New York gay community during the 1970s and the heroic suffering of persons with AIDS.

Through such pieces, Howe and other recent artists have fulfilled the traditional function of art to uplift the human spirit in the face of profound crisis.

Richard G. Mann

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arts >> Overview:  African-American and African Diaspora Art

Gay and lesbian artists of the African Diaspora have recently begun to explore issues specific to gender and sexuality; often relying on self-portraiture, they address homophobia and racism as well as desire and longing.

arts >> Overview:  AIDS Activism in the Arts

In response to the AIDS epidemic, a number of activist groups, including Gran Fury and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, have used art as a means to raise awareness about the epidemic.

arts >> Overview:  American Art: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Prior to Stonewall, most gay artists were closeted, but they were inventive in creating codes for those in the know; after 1945 some adventurous artists developed independent networks for the distribution of works of gay art.

arts >> Overview:  Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art, which designates new currents in art since 1970, is identified with postmodernism; during this period an art addressing gay and lesbian identity emerged.

arts >> Overview:  Patronage II: The Western World since 1900

Patronage--the sponsorship of artists and the commissioning of works from them--has remained a significant factor in the creation of queer visual culture in the modern era.

arts >> Overview:  Performance Art

Performance art has been embraced by queer artists as a means of challenging the very idea of traditional in art and culture.

arts >> Overview:  Photography: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

Post-Stonewall gay male photography merits recognition for its contribution to fine art, documentation, photo-journalism, and advertising, as well as erotica.

arts >> Blake, Nayland

Versatile African-American artist Nayland Blake creates--in a variety of media--work that reflects his preoccupation with his racial and sexual identities.

arts >> Caja, Jerome

San Francisco visual artist Jerome Caja is known for his small, sensuous combinations of found objects, which he painted with nail polish, makeup, and glitter, as well as for his drag performances.

arts >> Dureau, George

New Orleans artist George Dureau is best known for his male figure studies and narrative paintings in oil and charcoal and for his black-and-white photographs, which often feature street youths, dwarfs, and amputees.

arts >> Gober, Robert

Sculptor Robert Gober is among only a few openly gay American artists to achieve an international reputation as one of the great artists of our time.

arts >> González-Torres, Félix

Cuban-born American artist Félix González-Torres shaped an art that was at once personal and political, reflecting his AIDS and gay rights activism.

arts >> Haring, Keith

In his all-too-brief lifetime, gay American artist Keith Haring produced simple yet sophisticated images that reached a worldwide audience and transcended differences of race, nationality, gender, age, and sexual orientation.

arts >> Harter, J. B.

Mississippi-born artist and museum curator J. B. Harter drew and painted throughout his life, but only began showing his homoerotic work soon before he was murdered.

arts >> Howe, Delmas

Prominent American artist Delmas Howe seeks to visualize gay history by linking the past with the present in intensely homoerotic, deceptively naturalistic paintings.

arts >> Hujar, Peter

Photographer Peter Hujar created stark, stunning, affecting , and sometimes disturbing images in black and white.

arts >> Indiana, Robert

Robert Indiana, best known as the creator of the LOVE series of paintings and sculptures, is an openly gay American artist who has incorporated autobiographical and gay themes within his work.

arts >> Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation

New York City's Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of explicitly gay art.

arts >> Ligon, Glenn

The work of African-American mixed-media artist Glenn Ligon often conflates issues of race and gender and their frequently parallel histories and struggles.

arts >> Mapplethorpe, Robert

American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's controversial images typically combine rigorously formal composition and design with extreme subject matter.

arts >> Michals, Duane

American photographer Duane Michals represents same-sex love and spirituality as compellingly as he does same-sex desire.

arts >> Pittman, Lari

California artist Lari Pittman creates visually beautiful and exciting paintings that depict the anxiety attendant on being a gay male in America.

arts >> Riggs, Marlon

African-American filmmaker Marlon Riggs celebrated black culture and gay male sexuality, while exposing homophobia and racism.

arts >> Rivers, Larry

One of the pioneers of Pop Art, Larry Rivers was a prolific artist, sculptor, and jazz musician; although he did not identify as a bisexual, the twice-married artist had significant same-sex sexual experience.

arts >> Teske, Edmund

American photographer Edmund Teske created a distinct and inventive body of work that embraced multiple styles and subjects, from somber urban vistas to intimate, often eroticized, portraits.

arts >> Wojnarowicz, David

The first gay American artist to respond to the AIDS crisis with anger and moral outrage, David Wojnarowicz used his art as a polemical tool with which to indict those he held responsible for the AIDS epidemic and to document his own suffering.

arts >> Wong, Martin

American artist Martin Wong created innovative, transgressive paintings that celebrated his sexuality and explored multiple ethnic and racial identities.


Bad Object-Choices, eds. How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991.

Cooper, Emmanuel. Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography. London and New York: Routledge, 1990.

_____. The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West. 2nd edition. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

Dubin, Steven C. Arresting Images: Impolitic Art and Uncivil Actions. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

Gott, Peter, ed. Don't Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

Horne, Peter, and Reina Lewis. Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Kaiser, Charles. The Gay Metropolis: 1940-1996. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Munoz, Jose Esteban. Disidentifications. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Saslow, James M. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1999.


    Citation Information
    Author: Mann, Richard G.  
    Entry Title: American Art: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 18, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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