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Patronage II: The Western World since 1900  
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Bruce Voeller and the Mariposa Foundation
Commissioned in 1979 by the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation, the Gay Liberation sculptural monument, executed by George Segal, provoked intense controversy. Both this monument and a series of painted portraits for the foundation by Don Bachardy reflect the aspirations of the deeply committed gay activist, Bruce Voeller (1934-1994), one of the cofounders of the Mariposa Foundation.

Before his work in gay causes, Voeller had a distinguished career in developmental biology and biochemistry; in 1966, he became the youngest person in the history of Rockefeller University, New York, to attain the rank of Associate Professor. Married and the father of three children, he acknowledged his homosexuality at the age of 29. Following his divorce, he fought for child visitation rights in court and ultimately won a landmark decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on this matter. The experience of fighting that legal case convinced him of the importance of gay political action and led him to abandon his academic career in order to devote his energies to gay causes.

One of the founders of the GAA, he became disillusioned with the street protests increasingly favored by that group. Resigning from the GAA in 1973, he established the National Gay Task Force (later National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) to work for change within the mainstream political system. He forged important alliances with officials in the administration of President Jimmy Carter and helped to develop a broadly based national gay and lesbian rights organization. Despite these achievements, he left the Task Force in 1978 in order to establish the Mariposa Foundation for the study of sexuality (especially homosexuality) and the distribution of objective information about it. At the Foundation in the 1980s, he utilized his scientific knowledge to conduct many studies on the effectiveness of condoms and spermicides in preventing AIDS.

One of Voeller's first undertakings at the Mariposa Foundation was the project for a monument to Gay Liberation in Sheridan Park in Greenwich Village (NYC), directly opposite the Stonewall Inn. Expecting that the project would be completed before end of 1979, Voeller intended that it would mark the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. If it had been finished as Voeller initially planned, Gay Liberation also would have been the first monument to gay political struggles in the world.

Early in the planning stages, Voeller secured the financial support of eccentric philanthropist Peter Putnam (1925-1987), who had established the Mildred Andrews Fund, a foundation dedicated to funding public art, in honor of his mother. Putnam specified that the work "had to be loving and caring, and show the affection that is the hallmark of gay people. . . . And it had to have equal representation of men and women." In addition, the memorial had to be installed on public land.

However, Voeller had no success in his efforts to find a qualified gay or lesbian artist willing to undertake this community project. In particular, he devoted much time and energy to a futile attempt to persuade Louise Nevelson (1900-1988), a deeply closeted lesbian, to design the monument. Because Nevelson worked exclusively in an abstract style, Voeller must have been open to various approaches to sculptural design.

After several lesbian and gay artists had turned him down because they feared that association with a gay monument would hinder their career in the mainstream art world, Voeller offered the project to George Segal (1924-2000), who had shown a willingness to tackle controversial topics in his work.

The year before accepting the Gay Liberation commission, Segal completed In Memory of May 4, 1970: Abraham and Isaac, which honored the victims of the Kent State University slayings. Although Voeller is credited with suggesting Segal for the project, Putnam, who had funded Segal's Kent State sculpture through the Mildred Andrews Foundation, certainly would have endorsed this choice. Furthermore, Segal had depicted lesbian couples sensitively in The Girl Friends (1969) and other works, and he had included a gay male couple in the installation piece, Diner (completed 1968). Believing that a gay artist might be better suited for the project, Segal hesitated to accept the commission. However, Voeller convinced Segal that the deep human sympathy that he had revealed in his previous works made him ideally suited to carry out Gay Liberation.

Like Voeller, Segal came to his vocation relatively late in life. Although he had received a degree in art, Segal primarily worked as a chicken farmer until 1958 when he decided to devote himself to art. By 1960, he began producing the kind of work for which he became famous--life-size unpainted plaster figures, usually combined with real objects to create expressive tableaux. The figures were made from casts taken from family and friends. In 1971, he devised a new technique, known as double casting, in which molten metal is poured into the interior of the plaster cast. This technique enabled him to create durable works, such as Gay Liberation, which could function as outdoor monuments.

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