Art after Stonewall, 1969–1989 is the first major exhibition to examine the impact on visual culture of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) liberation movement sparked fifty years ago with the Stonewall Uprising. The show includes works by openly LGBTQ artists such as Scott Burton, Vaginal Davis, Lyle Ashton Harris, Greer Lankton, Catherine Opie, and Andy Warhol. Also considered are the practices of straight-identified artists such as Alice Neel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lynda Benglis, and Kiki Smith in terms of their engagement with the newly emerging queer subculture. Divided in two parts, the show is on view at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, which primarily presents works from the 1970s, while here at the Grey Art Gallery, art from the 1980s is featured.
The uprising began in the morning of June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a Mafia-run gay bar on Christopher Street. Among the working-class patrons who refused to be arrested quietly were the transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson and the gay artist Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. The confrontation spilled out into the street in protests and violent clashes. Others joined in, and the riots continued for days. As David Carter writes: “It is as if America symbolically got back the anger she had created by her neglect of her most despised children: the fairies, queens, and nelly boys she had so utterly abandoned.”
Although the Stonewall riots marked a turning point in queer civil rights, a decade later the struggle for liberation was facing extreme backlash—as seen in the repeal of gay rights legislation in Miami-Dade County and the assassination of gay city supervisor Harvey Milk in San Francisco. There was also tension within the movement, which unfortunately was not immune from perpetuating sexism, racism, and transphobia. Three crucial themes that are still relevant today provide the organizing principle for the Grey’s installation: Things Are Queer explores how the concept of queerness was developed as a way to resist categorizing people as straight or gay, female or male; AIDS and Activism observes how an epidemic that was initially viewed as a disease of homosexuals affected the gay community, artistic communities, and the world at large; and We’re Here! celebrates how, by the end of the 1980s, LGBTQ people had permeated and influenced all aspects of everyday life: queerness could no longer be marginalized in American society.
Located just blocks away from the Stonewall Inn, and in the vicinity of nightclubs, bars, and performance spaces that have long served as incubators for LGBTQ culture, the Grey Art Gallery serves as a fitting venue for Art after Stonewall. Not only have NYU’s faculty, staff, and students, along with its libraries and archives, been key players in queer activism and the formulation of queer theory—they have also contributed to the understanding and preservation of LGBTQ history and art.