A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York brings to light an important chapter in the city’s LGBT history. Through photographs, paintings and other visual art, as well as letters and ephemera, “Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York,” on view until February 26, reveals a web of relationships between LGBT artists who helped define New York’s queer subculture throughout the 20th century.
Photographs in the exhibition reveal these relationships and depict the people behind the performances, publications and other art included in the exhibition. Photographer Carl Van Vechten, best known for his portraits taken in the 1920s, is represented in the exhibition by portraits of the artist Richard Bruce Nugent, Gertrude Stein and choreographer Alvin Ailey among others. George Platt Lynes’s images show artists, performers and writers such as E.M. Forster, Robert Buckingham and Jared French, whose sketches for theater costumes are in the show. Cecil Beaton’s photographs include a portrait of Alfred Stieglitz, Mercedes de Acosta and Georgia O’Keefe, and another of Andy Warhol and Candy Darling. Beaton appears in photos by Lynes and Sam Wagstaff, who also shows up in several of the Robert Mapplethorpe images in the show. Mapplethorpe, too, is both artist and subject, appearing in images by Anton Perich and Judy Linn among others. A set of gelatin silver prints by Alice O’Malley depict employees and guests at the Clit Club in the early ’90s, while anonymous images show men cruising in the 1960s.
The exhibition peels back the layers of art and activism that defined gay culture in the twentieth century and influences mainstream culture today. And, as the museum notes in a statement, the show “celebrates the power of artistic collaboration to transcend oppression.” —Conor Risch