June 27, 2019
by Saga Beus
David McDermott and Peter McGough began working as a duo in 1980 after meeting in New York City. They became known for their blending of art and life through their all-encompassing interest in creative “time-travel.” Active in the East Village art scene of the 1980s, they created paintings, photographs, and films using old-fashioned materials and processes. Their work was included in the Whitney Biennial in 1987, 1991, and 1995. Today McDermott and McGough continue to create art collaboratively, splitting their time between Dublin (McDermott renounced his American citizenship and exiled himself to Ireland) and New York City.
Their painting, The Advent, 1932 of 1987 is included in the exhibition, Art After Stonewall, 1969–1989, currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery (April 24–July 20, 2019) and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (April 24–July 21, 2019). The exhibition examines art and activism in the 20 years after the 1969 Stonewall Uprising and highlights themes of visibility, commemoration, and the celebration of diverse identities. Leslie-Lohman features works mainly from the 1970s, while the Grey focuses on work from the 1980s.
McDermott and McGough’s The Advent, 1932 bridges two time periods, drawing from the artistic spirit of the late 19th and early 20th centuries while reflecting on the 1980s—the era of the AIDS crisis. Together the artists explore their interest in the past, often focusing on the gay subcultures of the Victorian period. This is also represented in the backdating of this work to 1932 and the artists’ “time experiments” in which they lived as Victorian dandies, complete with period-appropriate home décor and vintage appliances.
McDermott and McGough’s interest in challenging notions of time and chronology play out in The Advent, 1932 through its references to early 20th century abstraction and spiritualism, but also in its contemporary reflection on LGBTQ life. Dadaesque vowels dot the painting’s bright, concentric circles surrounding an image of Christ. Dark shards of brown and black break through the vibrant green tunnel of circles. The words “Advent Infinite Divine Spirit” transform the AIDS acronym into a memorial to friends, injecting a spiritual aura. The Advent, 1932 is thus a personal rumination on the passing of time, on mortality, and on the spirit’s infinite ability to live through art and memory.
In the Grey’s installation, The Advent, 1932 marks the transition between the Things Are Queer section and the AIDS and Activism section. Its deeply personal and contemplative representation of the AIDS crisis provides an intimate complement to the powerful activist posters on view nearby.
In 2017, a version of The Advent, 1932 was shown in New York at the artists’ installation Oscar Wilde Temple. Curated by Alison Gingeras, the Temple was unveiled in the Russell Chapel of the Church of the Village on the corner of West 13th Street and 7th Avenue (on view September 11 to December 2, 2017). It was envisioned as a secular space in honor of Oscar Wilde that would also commemorate more contemporary LGBTQ martyrs like Alan Turing, Harvey Milk, and Marsha P. Johnson. This church was chosen for its radically inclusive mission and its connection to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People (PFLAG), a prominent ally organization that was founded there in 1973.
The main altar of the Temple was organized around a sculpture of Oscar Wilde on a pedestal inscribed with his prison number at Reading Gaol, C33. An overturned soapbox of the popular 19th century Fairy Soap was placed in front. Instead of the twelve Stations of the Cross found in many churches, the Temple featured seven paintings based on British newspaper illustrations depicting Wilde’s arrest, trial, and imprisonment. A secondary altar served as a memorial to those lost to AIDS with a variation of Advent, 1932 entitled Advent Infinite Divine Spirit, also from 1987. On another wall, accompanying the paintings honoring Turing, Milk, and Johnson were three works commemorating Brandon Teena, Xulhaz Mannan, and Sakia Gunn. The Oscar Wilde Temple celebrated Wilde as a forerunner of LGBTQ liberation and remembered those whose lives were taken by homophobia and AIDS. It simultaneously marked the progress made since the 19th century and acknowledged the prejudices that still persist today. The exhibition travelled to London, where it was on view at Studio Voltaire from October 3, 2018 to March 31, 2019.
Larkin, Daniel. “A Gleaming Shrine for Oscar Wilde.” Hyperallergic. November 28, 2017. Accessed June 21, 2019. https://hyperallergic.com/408549/shrine-for-oscar-wilde-david-mcdermott-and-peter-mcgough-church-of-the-village/
Loos, Ted. “For This Artist Duo, a Third Act: A Shrine to Oscar Wilde.” The New York Times. September 6, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/06/arts/design/oscar-wilde-temple-artists.html
“McDermott and McGough.” Accessed June 21, 2019. http://www.mcdermottandmcgough.com/
“The Oscar Wilde Temple.” Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.oscarwildetemple.org/
“Oscar Wilde Temple.” The Church of the Village. Accessed June 21, 2019. https://www.churchofthevillage.org/oscar-wilde-temple
“Our Story.” PFLAG. Accessed June 21, 2019 https://pflag.org/our-story
Saga Beus is a graduate intern at the Grey Art Gallery. She expects to receive an M.A. in Museum Studies from New York University in May 2020.