Book Review: Art after Stonewall
By Sarah Sunday
A topic often swept under the rug and left largely unexplored is the history of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender civil rights movement, which was truly spurred on in the summer of 1969. Even lesser-known on this topic are the vast amounts of artwork that were created following the Stonewall Uprising, a catalytic turning point for LGBT liberation. In remembrance of Stonewall’s upcoming 50th Anniversary, Art after Stonewall, 1969 - 1989 serves up a delightful celebration hand-in-hand with skillful education. The sheer weight of LGBT artwork that was created in the twenty years following Stonewall is immeasurable, yet this photo book tenaciously delves into an ocean of LGBT works, portraying over 200 significant artworks and a cornucopia of mediums.
Although gay culture spans back to the beginning of time, the history of the LGBT liberation is a short and more recent one. An event that occurred in a Manhattan bar in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, ‘Stonewall’ was a monumental point that shattered the contingency of American social life as it was known. Over the course of one night, queer men and women fought for the Stonewall Inn and, unbeknownst to them at the time, altered the course of fundamental LGBT rights in the United States.
There is no limit to the forms of media collected in Art after Stonewall; the work is created by “street rats…Puerto Rican, Black, Northern and Southern whites. ‘Debby the Dyke’ and a Chinese queen named ‘Jade East’. The sons and daughters of postal workers, welfare mothers, cab drivers, mechanics, and nurses’ aides,” said Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, a Stonewall veteran.
Showcasing all forms of art, such as photographs, videos, sculptures, quilts, posters, billboards, and paintings, and featuring names such as Catherine Opie, Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus, Harmony Hammond, and Andy Warhol, the book is a rainbow spectrum of works. This impressive volume is categorized into six chapters: Coming Out, Sexual Outlaws, The Uses of the Erotic, Gender and Body, Things are Queer, AIDS and Activism, and We’re Here. All aspects are covered: the playful and amusing, the passionate and austere, the erotic and pornographic - and always the profoundly powerful.
The culture that was built up from the liberation of LGBT rights is multi-faceted and gorgeously diverse. Art after Stonewall, 1969 - 1989 explores the marginalized art work that came in waves from those experiencing the after-effects of Stonewall. Those who sheltered in the Stonewall Inn leading up to the night of June 28, 1969, did so because it was the sole place where individuals such as themselves were free to ‘dance slow’, a phrase that is repeatedly quoted throughout the book and holds a pearl of beauty in itself. The pages of Art after Stonewall are saturated with a rich art history, and to explore the book is to take a slow dance through sweet, queer liberation and expression.
You can find more information about the book here.