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American Art: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
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However, despite the controversies, by the 1990s lesbians no longer restricted themselves in terms of sexual or political content. New generations of artists, while owing--and acknowledging--a debt to the lesbian feminist work of the 1970s, constructed work based on their own experiences in a more pluralistic culture. Lesbian exhibitions such as Seattle's "Gender, fucked" (1996) blurred the distinctions between masculine/male and feminine/female in work dealing with transgender politics through representations of drag, passing, tomboys, etc.

Lesbian artists in the 1990s found drawing and painting once again viable media for lesbian expression, as they used appropriation to recontextualize art history. Trial Balloon's 1992 exhibition "Part FANTASY: the sexual imagination of seven lesbian artists explored through the medium of drawing," was perhaps the first lesbian show to focus on the significance of media as well as content.

In her continuing work, artist Deborah Kass (b. 1952) smartly appropriates the work of Andy Warhol, replacing his gay Pop icons with her own lesbian ones. Nicole Eisenman (b. 1968) draws, paints, and constructs Amazons, flipping the script on men and art history in lesbian scenes and castration fantasies. Zoe Leonard, Mary Patten, Judith Bamber and others create work using "cunt" imagery to reclaim art and the female body for lesbian audiences.

Artists such as Tammy Rae Carland and G.B. Jones go even further in referencing lesbian popular culture to reassert lesbian sexuality. They derive imagery from pulp novels, women-in-prison films, and lesbian porn. Carland is also co-founder with musician Kaia Wilson of Mr. Lady records, an independent label that distributes lesbian videos and films. Mr. Lady is also home to lesbian performance art band Le Tigre, comprised of Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman, and JD Samson. (Founding member and filmmaker Sadie Benning, no longer with the group, was a pioneering video artist as a teenager in the 1980s.)

Performance, a mainstay of early feminist art, has become an important element in lesbian culture through the work of Le Tigre, Phranc, The Butchies (Wilson's band), Jocelyn Taylor, Shu Lea Chang, and others. Queer activists such as Dyke Action Machine (DAM; Carrie Moyer and Sue Schaffner), The Lesbian Avengers, and fierce pussy (Carrie Yamaoka, Joy Episalla, Pam Brandt, and Alison Froling) incorporate elements of performance in their "actions."

At century's end a conservative backlash began: in 1998 the NEA Four lost an appeal by the government to the Supreme Court and eventually lost their grant funding. At the start of the new millennium, however, lesbian art is experiencing a pluralism and visibility it has never previously enjoyed. The proliferation of alternative venues from lesbian sex journals to 'zines to cartoons to websites to concerts is an important development for the future of lesbian art. Lesbian artists in America, from installation artists to filmmakers and photographers to performance artists and painters, are increasingly diverse and visible.

Carla Williams

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literature >> Overview:  Amazons

Historically either distrusted as agents of chaos or admired as examples of female power and intelligence, Amazons were depicted as heterosexual until the twentieth century, when lesbians adopted them as symbols of powerful women living without men.

literature >> Overview:  Awards

The contemporary literary awards given specifically to honor glbtq books may be seen as an outgrowth of the modern American gay rights movement, so intertwined are they with the movement for equality.

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: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall lesbian photographers have created an enduring archive that documents lesbian lives, searches for a lesbian sensibility, and explores various issues of particular import to the lesbian community.

arts >> Overview:  Pop Art

An early 1960s school of painting and sculpture that utilized the subjects, techniques, or stylistic conventions of popular culture, Pop Art expressed a camp sensibility.

arts >> Biren, Joan Elizabeth (JEB)

During the 1970s and 1980s, the photographs of Joan Elizabeth Biren, better known as JEB, defined and set the standard for lesbian feminist image making in the United States.

arts >> Brooks, Romaine

The female nudes and portraits of cross-dressed women made American artist Romaine Brooks's lesbian identity known to the world.

arts >> Chicago, Judy

American painter and sculptor Judy Chicago has contributed to gay and lesbian culture through her feminist critique of heterosexuality and patriarchy.

arts >> Cooling, Janet

Audaciously pioneering artist Janet Cooling, who first won recognition for her erotic art, has become recognized as a significant contemporary American painter.

arts >> Corinne, Tee

The shy superstar of lesbian erotica, American artist Tee Corinne is especially known for her frank and sensuous depictions of lesbian sex.

social sciences >> Daughters of Bilitis

The first national lesbian political and social organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis was a significant part of the pre-Stonewall lesbian and gay rights movement.

arts >> Edison, Laurie Toby

Best known for three collections of photographs featuring, respectively, fat nude women, nude men, and women in Japan, Laurie Toby Edison turned to photography as a medium that could combine art and social activism.

social sciences >> Gay Liberation Front

Formed soon after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the short-lived but influential Gay Liberation Front brought a new militancy to the movement that became known as gay liberation.

arts >> Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein)

The British artist Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) defied the conventions of her class and time, but left her mark on the history of modern art in England.

arts >> Grace, Della (Del Lagrace Volcano)

The work of photographer Della Grace, also known as Del Lagrace Volcano, confronts questions of the performance of gender, especially the performance of masculinity by lesbians.

arts >> Hammond, Harmony Lynn

Harmony Hammond is a significant artist whose lesbian feminism is integrated into her painting and sculpture, teaching, writing, and curatorial work.

arts >> Hughes, Holly

Lesbian feminist performance artist Holly Hughes has a flair for telling the outrageous stories of everyday lesbian life.

arts >> Snyder, Joan

Acclaimed as one of the leading Expressionists of her generation, American artist Joan Snyder has given modern Expressionism a vigorous infusion of feminist purpose.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as artist)

The avatar of Pop Art, Andy Warhol expressed desire in his images of celebrities and flouted traditional notions of masculinity by embracing extravagance, effeminacy, and an obsession with surface appearances.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as filmmaker)

Although Andy Warhol is generally remembered either for a single film--Sleep (1963)--or for works that he did not actually direct, his contribution to gay cinema is incalculable.

arts >> Winant, Fran

During the 1970s and early 1980s, poet, painter, and activist Fran Winant helped define the role and sensibility of lesbians in the contexts of gay liberation and radical feminism.

literature >> Wolverton, Terry

Throughout her varied career as a writer, editor, teacher, and performance artist, Terry Wolverton has consistently worked to document glbtq history and increase the visibility of the community.

literature >> Woodson, Jacqueline

A prize-winning author of books for young adults, the African-American lesbian writer Jacqueline Woodson gives voice to a complex range of both straight and gay characters.


Blake, Nayland, Lawrence Rinder, and Amy Scholder, eds. In a Different Light: Visual Culture, Sexual Identity, Queer Practice. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1995.

Boffin, Tessa, and Jean Fraser, eds. Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs. London: Pandora Press, 1991.

Boffin, Tessa, and Sunil Gupta, eds. Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology. London: Rivers Owen Press, 1990.

Bright, Deborah, ed. The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

Bright, Susie, and Jill Posener, eds. Nothing but the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image: A Portfolio and Exploration of Lesbian Erotic Photography. New York: Freedom Editions, 1996.

Davis, Whitney, ed. Gay and Lesbian Studies in Art History. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1994.

Duberman, Martin, ed. Queer Representations: Reading Lives, Reading Cultures. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

Gates, Beatrix. The Wild Good: Lesbian Photographs & Writings on Love. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1996.

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

Kelley, Caffyn, ed. Forbidden Subjects: Self-Portraits by Lesbian Artists. North Vancouver, B.C.: Gallerie Publications, 1992.

Hammond, Harmony. Lesbian Art in America. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2000.

Jones, Amelia, ed. Sexual Politics: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in Feminist Art History. Berkeley and Los Angeles: UCLA at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with University of California Press, 1996.

Kiss & Tell: Persimmon Blackbridge, Lizard Jones, Susan Stewart. Her Tongue on My Theory: Images, Essays, and Fantasies. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1994.

Lord, Catherine, ed. Pervert. Irvine: The Art Gallery, University of California at Irvine, 1995.

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

Smyth, Cherry. Damn Fine Art by New Lesbian Artists, London: Cassell, 1996.

Vicinus, Martha, ed. Lesbian Subjects: A Feminist Studies Reader. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Mr. Lady Records:

Lesbian photographers:

Queer Arts Resources :


    Citation Information
    Author: Williams, Carla  
    Entry Title: American Art: Lesbian, 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 August 10, 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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