Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender & Identity at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Ferranti, F. Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity’s exhibition guide. Bristol, Bower Ashton Campus. [Unpublished photograph].

On Saturday 2 December I went to Birmingham for the launch of Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, carefully envisioned by Curator Lisa Beauchamp.

Ferranti, F. (2017) Curator Lisa Beauchamp talking about a sculpted bust of John Hampson. Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  [Unpublished photograph].

The exhibition enables the audience to have a personal encounter with the artworks, without providing a set interpretation: this approach to Curatorial Practice might be considered as perfectly fitting in the current discourse on reshuffling nationalist and patriarchal organisations of museum collections (Steorn, 2012).

How might museums and art galleries queer their collections?

Moreover, art historian Patrick Steorn explains how ‘the museum space is very effective as producer of social norms. Objects that enter the museum change their meaning with their change of context’. (Steorn, 2012, p.363)

The exhibition’s aim is to then offer an insight on queer desire and sexuality with regards to the socio-political context and queer politics (for instance artists and activists John Walter and Charlie Craggs are concerned in raising a debate on Aids and transgender rights through their works).

Ferranti, F.  (2017) Alien Sex Club by John Walter. Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  [Unpublished photograph].

The work Alien Sex Club is a mixed media installation, which entails painting, sculpture, audio and video recordings: it aims at presenting a multilayered and dynamic work of art, which guides the viewer through a journey into HIV through an examination of its causes.

Deploying a pop aeshetic (referring to gay dating apps such as Grindr, the use of recreational pills and chem sex) Walter seeks out  to raise awareness on such a delicate issue in order to respond to the most recent HIV statistics.

homotopiafestival (2015) Alien Sex Club. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nXeQh7UZ1o [Accessed 11 December 2017].

In the project’s website, Walter argues that ‘We’re living in an Alien Sex Club, we’ve made the world a sex club, what are we to do?’ (Walter, 2017), specifically  provoking the audience to reflect on the issue.

Ferranti, F. (2017) Judy Chicago’s Shortcuts in dialogue with Edward Burne-Jones’ The Last Supper. Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  [Unpublished photograph].
img_0719-1
Ferranti, F. (2017) June Wayne’s print of Judy Chicago’s Shortcuts (1980) [litograph on paper].  Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  [Unpublished photograph].
Ferranti, F. (2017) Edward Burne Jones’ The Last Supper. (1865) [pencil on paper]377mm x 511mmBirmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  [Unpublished photograph].
Furthermore, Beauchamp made illuminating queer/feminist interventions in displaying pieces from the collection alongside the ones that were specifically selected for the exhibition: as it might be observed by the photos above, the curator displayed June Wayne’s litograph of Judy Chicago’s Shortcuts alongside Edward Burne Jones’ The Last Supper in order to enhance a debate on the privilege of men in gender representation.

I decided to reflect on Wayne’s piece as it means to create a dialogue with one of the most pivotal feminist artworks of the 1970s, now hosted in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art inside Brooklyn Museum: The Dinner Party (1974-1979) by Judy Chicago.

Woodman, D. Chicago, J. The Dinner Party (1974–79). [Ceramic, porcelain, textile]. 576 × 576 inch. (1463 × 1463 cm), Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10.

‘ Curatorial Activism is a term that I use to designate the practice of organizing art exhibitions with the principle of organizing art exhibitions with the principle aim of ensuring that certain constituencies of artists are no longer ghettoized or excluded from the master narratives of art’ (Reilly, 2017, p.1)

In conclusion, the exhibition showed how the approach that Maura Reilly called ‘Curatorial Activism’ successfully contributes to dislodge the patriarchal and heteronormative paradigm of the Western canon.

Moving away from the idea of exhibiting in a white cube space but rather choosing vibrant and pastel walls appears to be the perfect mode of displaying  such an inclusive and diverse list of artists.

Reference list: 

  • Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender, Identity. Available from: http://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/whats-on/coming-out-sexuality-gender-and-identity [Accessed 3 December 2017]. 
  • Ferranti, F. Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity’s exhibition guide. Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. [Unpublished photograph].
  • Ferranti, F. (2017) Curator Lisa Beauchamp talking about a sculpted bust of John Hampson. Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. [Unpublished photograph].
  • Ferranti, F. (2017) Judy Chicago’s Shortcuts in dialogue with Edward Burne-Jones The Last Supper. Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. [Unpublished photograph].
  • Ferranti, F. (2017) Edward Burne Jones’ The Last Supper.  Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. [Unpublished photograph].
  • Magill, M. (2017) ‘ “Diversifying the narrative”: an interview with Lisa Beauchamp, curator of Coming Out @ Brum Museum & Art Gallery
  • Public Health England (2015) Hiv in the UK- Situation Report 2015: Incidence, prevalence and prevention. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/477702/HIV_in_the_UK_2015_report.pdf [Accessed 3 December 2017].
  • Reilly M. (2017) ‘What is Curatorial Activism?’, Art News. Available from: http://www.artnews.com/2017/11/07/what-is-curatorial-activism/. [Accessed 3 December 2017].
  • Steorn, P. (2012) ‘Curating Queer Heritage: Queer Knowledge and Museum Practice’, Curator, 55 (3), pp. 355-365.
  • Walter, J. (2017) Alien Sex Club . Available from: http://www.pocko.com/john-walter-alien-sex-club/ [Accessed 3 December 2017].
  • Woodman, D. Chicago, J. The Dinner Party (1974–79). [Ceramic, porcelain, textile]. 576 × 576 inch. (1463 × 1463 cm), Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10.

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