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Contemporary Art  
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The retreat of gay identity art raises some interesting questions. After a first generation of concerted and successful efforts to declare social and sexual self-worth in their art, are gay artists now free to go their own way, without obligatory pressures to be combative and make sexual orientation the center of their creativity? Has Western society's relative acceptance of homosexuals made gay identity art unnecessary? What about non-Western cultures where homosexuality is persecuted and punished?

Perhaps the most profound question for glbtq artists at this stage of art history is whether the label of gay and lesbian art is limiting. What about gay artists who express themselves in abstraction? Is gay and lesbian identity art a historical phase similar to the social realist and activist art of the 1930s? What comes next? Will it be a period that the African-American installation artist Adrian Piper refers to as "post-ethnicity?"

One of the great achievements of gay and lesbian art was to free sexual energies, to unfetter the self to make art that does not deny sexual integrity. The art of Peter Paul Rubens and Pablo Picasso is unimaginable without its intense heterosexual charge. Yet this art speaks to all humanity, including glbtq individuals. Many of the artists who have figured in the history of contemporary gay and lesbian art have similarly created works of art that are at once individual and universal. While grounded in sexual identity, it ultimately speaks to people of all sexual orientations who are able to see and experience what is human in all of us.

Robert Gober, Joan Snyder, David Wojnarowicz, Judy Chicago, Félix González-Torres, Keith Haring, Glenn Ligon, and Ross Bleckner, among others, are now entrenched in the history of art. Grounded in personal identity, their art reaches out to move us all in its sensuousness and resonance.

Richard H. Axsom

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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, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, American gay male art underwent a radical transformation as artists came out and began to treat gay themes openly and directly.

arts >> Overview:  American Art: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall, lesbian artists in America, from installation artists to filmmakers and photographers to performance artists and painters, have become increasingly diverse and visible.

arts >> Overview:  Censorship in the Arts

Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Twentieth Century

A large number of significant twentieth-century European artists focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender themes, making such concerns crucial to the understanding of twentieth-century European art.

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 >> 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 >> Overview:  Video Art

Queer video art explores diverse issues, but because it can be such a personally expressive medium, it frequently focuses on issues directly concerned with queer experience.

literature >> Barthes, Roland

French semiotician Roland Barthes argued that the reintroduction of the sentimentality of love into sexuality would be the ultimate transgression.

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 >> 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 >> Bleckner, Ross

Avant-garde American artist Ross Bleckner creates paintings that draw upon and play with earlier traditions of abstraction by wedding his private experience as a gay man to public concerns surrounding gay identity, most especially the AIDS crisis.

arts >> Caballero, Luis

Luis Caballero HolguĂ­n, one of the most significant Latin American painters of the second half of the twentieth century, considered his homosexuality a fundamental component of his artistic expression.

arts >> Cadmus, Paul

American painter Paul Cadmus is best known for the satiric innocence of his frequently censored paintings of burly men in skin-tight clothes, but he also created works that celebrate same-sex domesticity.

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 >> Chicago, Judy

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

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.

literature >> Foucault, Michel

One of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, Foucault has had an enormous influence on our understanding of the lesbian and gay literary heritage and the cultural forces surrounding it.

arts >> Gilbert & George
Gilbert Proesch (b. 1943) and George Passmore (b. 1942)

Controversial British avant-garde artists Gilbert & George explore themes ranging from city life, with all its frailties, to religion, scatology, and homosexuality.

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 >> 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 >> 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 >> Hockney, David

One of the liveliest and most versatile visual artists of his generation, David Hockney not only has helped break down resistance to the erotic gaze directed at the male body but also has presented gay male couples in domestic--rather than sensational or sexual--images.

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 >> Hughes, Holly

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

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 >> Johns, Jasper

Known for his iconic yet cryptic paintings, acclaimed American artist Jasper Johns is a key figure in the transition from Modernism to Post-Modernism.

arts >> Leonard, Michael

Britain's leading photorealist painter, Michael Leonard is accomplished in a number of genres, but his dominant subject is the nude male.

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 >> Lukacs, Attila Richard

The work of Canadian painter, sculptor, and installation artist Attila Richard Lukacs is provocative and frequently fetishistic, especially in its depictions of skinheads.

arts >> Mapplethorpe, Robert

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

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 >> Rauschenberg, Robert

One of the most prolific and innovative artists of the late twentieth century, Robert Rauschenberg was at the core of a group of interdisciplinary artists who revolutionized American art.

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 >> Tillmans, Wolfgang

An important contemporary photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans synthesizes classic photographic genres, but has also pioneered in his photographic installations by utilizing innovative methods of presentation.

arts >> Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen)

Defiantly rejecting the invisibility, homophobia, and indignities of pre-Stonewall life, the men in Tom of Finland's drawings reflect a hyper-masculine, working-class version of homosexual manhood that proved important to the emerging gay rights movement.

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 >> 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.


Atkins, Robert, and Thomas W. Sokolowski. From Media to Metaphor: Art about AIDS. New York: Independent Curators, 1991.

Arnason, H. Harvard, and Marla Prather, revising author. History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography. 4th edition. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998.

Auping, Michael. Jess: Grand Collage, 1951-1993. Buffalo: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1993.

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

Cameron, Daniel, ed. Extended Sensibilities: Homosexual Presence in Contemporary Art. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1982.

Cotter, Holland. "Art after Stonewall: 12 Artists Interviewed." Art in America 82.6 (June 1994): 56-65.

Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the College Art Association. Bibliography of Gay and Lesbian Art. New York: Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the College Art Association, 1994.

Hammond, Harmony. Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History. New York: Rizzoli, 2000.

Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood, eds. Art In Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1992.

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

Hunter, Sam, and John Jacobus and Daniel Wheeler. Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. 3rd ed., rev. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000

Lippard, Lucy R. "Naming." Writings about Art. Carole Gold Calo, ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1994. 262-75.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Race, Sex, and Gender: In Contemporary Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.

_____. Ars Erotica: An Arousing History of Erotic Art. New York: Rizzoli, 1997.

Meyer, Richard. Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-CenturyAmerican Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Miller, James, ed. Fluid Exchanges: Artists and Critics in the AIDS Crisis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

Phillips, Lisa. "Culture Under Siege." 1991 Biennial Exhibition. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1991. 15-21

Reed, Christopher. "Gay and Lesbian Art." Grove Dictionary of Art. Joan Shoaf Turner, ed. New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 1996. 12:213-220; Grove Dictionary of Art Online: (January 1, 2002).

Whitney Museum of American Art. 1987 Biennial Exhibition. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1987.


    Citation Information
    Author: Axsom, Richard H.  
    Entry Title: Contemporary Art  
    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 30, 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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