In Chicago, Overlooked Achievements by L.G.B.T.Q. Artists — Arthur Lubow

The New York Times, 08.02.2019

CHICAGO — Because photographs record a moment that has passed, they are by nature poignant. But a particularly bittersweet mood infuses an ambitious exhibition here of photographs, paintings and videos of L.G.B.T.Q. art. The show, titled “About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art,” through Aug. 10 at the Wrightwood 659 art exhibition space, is the most unconventional of the Stonewall anniversary shows. It is made up of mini-retrospectives of artists who are, for the most part, underrecognized. Some were lost to AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s. A number of those spared by the virus have coped with alcohol and drug addiction.

When well-known artists are included, as with Peter Hujar, Greer Lankton and Roger Brown, they are represented by many unfamiliar pieces. And in the case of Harvey Milk, who is probably the most famous name of all, we see evidence of an overlooked amateur photography career that would probably merit little attention had Milk, the proprietor of a now legendary camera shop in the Castro district, not become a trailblazing San Francisco politician. Still, Milk’s photographic legacy is creditable, and, in light of his murder, haunting. (The show is curated by Jonathan D. Katz, a scholar specializing in L.G.B.T.Q. art.)

The upbeat works in the show were usually made by lesbians, including Joan E. Biren, Alice O’Malley and Sophia Wallace, who in very different ways celebrate female sexuality and lesbian pride, and by a few younger artists who came along late enough to escape the ravages of the epidemic.

In an exhibition that includes nearly 500 pieces by 39 artists, mostly represented in depth, these are five of the most intriguing.