Frida Kahlo, Stonewall, Indigenous crafts and Walt Whitman are all being explored at 2019’s must-see exhibits.
Gay Liberation Front marches on Times Square, New York, 1970Diana Davies / New York Public Library
By Dan Allen
In early 1969, the idea that even one LGBTQ-themed art show might be on the horizon would have been scandalous, if not preposterous. So it’s only fitting that as the Stonewall uprising turns 50 this year, and with a multitude of major queer-infused exhibitions on the global 2019 art calendar, one of their central themes will be the critical and far-reaching impact of Stonewall itself.
Also in store this year in our dozen must-see art picks: Frida Kahlo comes to Brooklyn for a unique show of her personal effects; a bicentennial celebration of poet Walt Whitman; a Boston look at blurred gender lines in the last century of fashion; and one-person shows for several exciting queer art innovators, past and present.
The world’s first gay-specific museum, Berlin’s Schwules Museum, has over three decades amassed an enormous and diverse collection of materials, including a large number of items relating to trans history. In this groundbreaking exhibition, a selection of the museum’s trans art and memorabilia, thus far interpreted and catalogued only through a cisgender (non-transgender) gaze, is presented for reinterpretation by trans voices. (Through March 1)
Seattle artist Jody Kuehner, best known locally for her gender-blurring drag persona Cherdonna Shinatra, presents a brightly colored, multi-textural installation, in which she and her troupe of all-queer dancers present daily performances, using drag, dance, clowning and sheer joy to counteract the dismal state of the world and its constant attacks on femme and queer identities. (Through April 28)
No artist’s personal style has been as tied to their identity as Frida Kahlo’s — yet this is the first American show ever devoted to the artist’s iconic clothing and personal effects. It’s also the largest Frida show of any kind in the U.S. in 10 years. This broad collection of personal artifacts, locked away unseen for half a century after her death in 1954, includes her instantly recognizable Tehuana clothing, jewelry and hand-painted corsets and prosthetics. (Feb. 8 - May 12)
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The modernized traditional works of Choctaw-Cherokee multimedia artist Jeffrey Gibson often explore both indigenous and queer themes. Here Gibson presents a series of new garments created during his artist residency at the New Museum, employing traditional Native American craft techniques like Southeastern river cane basket weaving, Algonquian birch bark biting and porcupine quillwork. (Feb. 13 - June 9)
The first of several exhibitions to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, this NYPL show will focus on LGBTQ life and activism from 1965 to 1975, via the pioneering work of photojournalists Kay Tobin Lahusen and Diana Davies, who captured key events of the decade that helped change the ways LGBTQ people perceive themselves. Other items from the library’s vast queer history holdings will also be on display. (Feb. 14 - June 30)
Few people are as important to the development of American dance as writer and impresario Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of the New York City Ballet, and a key figure in the early history of MoMA. This first-of-its-kind show explores Kirstein’s sweeping contributions to American cultural life in the 1930s and ’40s, and his tastemaking role at the hub of a very queer network of New York artists, intimates and collaborators. (March 17 - June 30)
Gender fluidity is nothing new in the fashion world, which for a century has been blurring traditional lines between men’s and women’s apparel. This collection of more than 60 boundary-pushing designs examines the rich history of fashion disruption, and puts trends like the 1920s’ garçonne look and the 1960s’ peacock revolution into historical context. Jean Paul Gaultier and Rei Kawakubo are just two of the famed designers featured in the show, which also includes pieces worn by Marlene Dietrich, David Bowie and Young Thug. (March 21 - Aug. 25)
The NYPL honors Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday by presenting materials from across its massive collections that examine the poet’s formative influences and beliefs, the publication of his most noted works including Leaves of Grass, and his national and global reach that continues to this day. The exhibition will also explore how Whitman used his unique style to treat themes like nature, death, democracy and sexuality. (March 29 - July 27)
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York
Incredibly for the first time anywhere, this show will showcase the direct impact of the Stonewall riots on artists and their art. Featuring more than 150 works, this expansive show focuses on openly LGBTQ artists like Nan Goldin, Holly Hughes, Tim Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie and Andy Warhol, as well as on how non-queer artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Karen Finley interacted with the newly emerging post-Stonewall queer subculture. (April 21 - July 21)
CAMH’s take on Stonewall will look both backward and forward, using the works of 16 queer artists to provide local, national, international and intergenerational snapshots of the continuing struggle for LGBTQ rights. Featured artists include filmmaker Barbara Hammer, painter Christina Quarles and South African photographer Zanele Muholi. (April 27 - Aug. 4)
New York City’s oldest museum gets in on the Stonewall anniversary action with a trio of exhibitions. Letting Loose and Fighting Back: LGBTQ Nightlife Before and After Stonewall explores the city’s rocky and explosive queer nightlife history during the second half of the 20th century. By the Force of Our Presence: Highlights From the Lesbian Herstory Archives showcases the contributions of lesbians and queer women within the LGBTQ movement. And Say It Loud, Out and Proud: Fifty Years of Pride presents images from the first half century of NYC Pride marches. (March 24 - Sept. 22)
New York City’s Greenwich Village was a hotbed of cultural change from the 1950s to the early ‘70s, as captured by the tireless lens of Village Voice photographer Fred W. McDarrah. Included in this McDarrah retrospective are his coverage of the Stonewall riots and illuminating shots from the early gay, women’s and counterculture movements. (Opens June 6)