Queering the Collection brings together a selection of artworks from the RMG’s permanent collection and seeks to expand upon the established interpretations of these artworks by looking at them through a queer lens. The artworks were selected taking into account records and documentation that suggest these artists lived outside of gender and sexuality binaries and in doing so, questions why these facts have been historically removed from conversations about the artist and their work.
“Queer” as a term is often used as shorthand for the wider 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Historically used as a slur, it was reclaimed during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s as a way to refuse stigmatization. Today the term remains controversial, but is rooted in the urge to challenge normative systems and relations, question accepted boundaries, and reject societal expectations. It is a way of being in the world, a shared sense of understanding and community with other queer people. In the current global context, when the rights of queer people are being simultaneously recognized and all but erased, examining historical queerness feels increasingly urgent, acknowledging that we have always been here, and provides a sense of ancestry to young queer people.
Queerness has always been present in the arts but has been historically dependent on artists remaining invisible and unnamed. Rediscovering and acknowledging the queer stories of these artists, explicit or covert, adds a valuable layer to the interpretation of their work. The featured artists have used their artwork as an outlet to explore themselves, seek change, and redefine the world around them. Some artists lived openly, sharing their lives and experiences publically through art, some we may only be able to speculate about, while others lived quietly during a time when their private lives were criminalized. They have used their artwork to express the pain of losing loved ones to AIDS, the joy of queer relationships, and the banality of everyday life; essential human experiences often only permitted in private spaces for many queer people in history and even today.
Queering the Collection invites viewers to consider a new lens of interpretation when looking at these works. In questioning how society interprets our histories, we establish foundational methods for being curious and questioning how we live today, and think critically about our role in the world.
Installation of Queering the Collection at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2023. Images by Toni Hafkenscheid.