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Patronage II: The Western World since 1900  
 
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Very optimistic in spirit, the mural by Button and Dubsky provided an effective background for the diverse activities of the GAA. Visualizing the unity of gay liberation with other social causes, the mural included photographs of anti-war and civil rights demonstrations alongside images of gay marches. Furthermore, the civil rights activist Huey Newton and other leaders of various political struggles were represented in photographs and paintings, as were such gay cultural icons as Plato and Whitman. Evoking the social functions of the center, the mural also included photographs of people enjoying communal interaction (socializing in bars, playing baseball in a park, etc.). Shown moving from darkness to light, painted nude male and female figures visualized the transition from oppression to liberation. "Gay Pride" and other slogans were painted in large capital letters over the entire surface.

Appropriately for a commission by an organization that sought to foster cooperation among individuals of varied backgrounds and perspectives, the mural project involved the collaboration of artists of different generations. Prior to undertaking this project, John Button (1929-1982) had gained mainstream success through his brightly colored landscapes and elegant portraits, although he occasionally discreetly produced male nudes for private clients. As a result of his work on the mural, Button publicly acknowledged his homosexuality and increasingly utilized his art in support of gay political causes.

Sponsor Message.

Raised as a child of immigrants in London, Mario Dubsky (1939-1985) was aware of the significance of difference from an early age, although he did not come to grips with his homosexuality until the 1960s. With a Harkness Fellowship, he arrived in New York a few days before the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, and he quickly became involved in gay political activities. However, prior to his work on the GAA mural, he primarily had produced abstract paintings, unconnected with social causes.

Influenced by his interaction with Button and with various representatives of GAA, Dubsky later focused upon figurative narratives of gay political struggle (for example, Tom Pilgrim's Progress Among the Consequences of Christianity, 1977-78). Thus, fulfilling the highest ideals of patronage, the GAA commission not only celebrated the purposes of the organization, but it also impacted the artists' careers.

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, NYC

By the 1980s, increasing numbers of major art projects were being undertaken in glbtq communities. Among these, the art pieces sponsored in 1989 by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City attracted national media attention.

In an effort to counter the sort of divisiveness that had afflicted the GAA, the Center, established in 1983, was intended to bring together a wide variety of different organizations. This concept proved to be successful, and, by 1989, the Center's ever-expanding membership had become discontented with the dismal conditions of its headquarters in Greenwich Village. To foster the creation of art responding to the diverse interests of its varied constituency and thereby improve the climate and decor of the building, the Center's board of directors invited fifty artists and artist groups to install pieces throughout the Center.

Although many of the projects were temporary, the mural created by Keith Haring (1958-1990) still decorates the second floor men's rest room. It has, in fact, become one of the most famous landmarks of gay culture in New York. Although Haring had become an international art star by 1989, he remained deeply suspicious of the capitalist system (including its art markets) and intensely committed to such political causes as AIDS activism and opposition to homophobia and to racism. His lively and deceptively simple pictographs combined inspiration from such diverse sources as graffiti, comic books, and various nonwestern artistic traditions.

Above the toilets and sinks of the Center men's room, Haring depicted greatly enlarged penises and stylized figures engaging in sex play with the same exuberance and ingenuity as Hieronymus Bosch did in the famous Renaissance masterpiece, Garden of Earthly Delights (1490s, Prado Museum, Madrid). Haring's mural more directly evokes the blunt homoerotic images that spontaneously appeared throughout the twentieth century on the walls of public men's rooms--places of surreptitious homosexual encounters that may have constituted the earliest public "gay spaces" of the modern era.

Many of the temporary installations presented at the New York Community Center stimulated viewer interactions in exciting and innovative ways. For instance, Kiss-and-Tell, a three-woman collective from Vancouver, created Drawing the Line, which consisted of 100 photographs of two women, engaged in a range of sexual activities, from tender kissing to S/M. Visitors were asked to record their responses by writing on the wall, and these became part of the exhibition. These comments raised a variety of provocative issues about the relation of sexual acts to glbtq political movements.

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