QUEER: Stories from the NGV Collection

QUEER: Tales from the NGV Collection explores and celebrates in a historic exhibition, which includes up to four hundred artworks. Themes include LGBT tales which span over five galleries. It is the largest LGBT exhibition ever staged at an Australian gallery.

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This new LGBTQI+ positive show includes works from antiquity to the present – shedding light on a variety of queer-centric issues. Utilising modern research, interpretation, and analysis, the show explores queer culture’s inherent controversial narrative. These are the themes that are most frequently suppressed, subject to prejudice or discrimination.

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, NGV, says of the collection, “Never has a queer thematic exhibition of this scale and nuance been staged in an Australian art institution. QUEER: Stories from the NGV Collection shines a light on the NGV Collection to examine and reveal the queer stories that the artworks have to tell. Drawing on a broad selection of beloved and lesser-known artworks, this exhibition will present audiences with the opportunity to interpret queer concepts and stories in surprising and thought-provoking ways.”

Queer as a Concept

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Christopher Ribbat, Professor of American Studies at the Universität Paderborn in Germany, says in the journal ‘Amerikastudien’,

“Queer” as a concept runs against all definitions, all fixed meaning, forever questioning, redeploying, twisting terms, texts and itself from conventional usage.

From activism and protest to love and desire, the collection covers community and connection, text and performance, prejudice and loss. This wide range of topics and ideas spans over more than ten parts. Various artforms which include painting, drawing, photography, decorative arts, fashion, textiles, video, sculpture, design, and architecture are all represented.

Highlight works include: 

Leigh Bowery, The Metropolitan | Credit: NGV

Leigh Bowery’s subversive and boundary-pushing fashion ‘looks’, including The Metropolitan (c. 1988) in which a full-length floral satin dress is paired with a face covering, a black ‘Kaiser’ helmet and a pair of camouflage print leather gloves;  

Tourmaline, Atlantic is a Sea of Bones | Credit: ASAP/J

The recently acquired video work Atlantic is a Sea of Bones by Tourmaline, a transgender woman, artist and activist. The work weaves together the legacies of slavery, HIV/AIDS and racism in the lives of transgender people of colour, as well as the effects of gentrification of the Meatpacking District and the Piers where marginalised people, and specifically HIV positive, Black and trans communities, previously lived.

Albrecht Dürer, St Sebastian at the tree | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Albrecht Dürer, St Sebastian at the tree, 1501, which depicts the early Christian martyr who since the Renaissance has been often portrayed as a beautiful young man, giving rise to homoerotic interpretations of his story. By the late 19th century, Sebastian had emerged as a queer icon, beloved by Oscar Wilde who, in French exile after his trial, took the alias ‘Sebastian Melmoth’; 

Ponch Hawkes | Credit: Art Blart

Ponch Hawkes’ 1973 photograph, No title (Two women embracing, ‘Glad to be gay’), which depicts two women proudly and courageously celebrating their love during the Gay Liberation Movement in Melbourne.

Brook Andrew | Credit: Coee Art

Brook Andrew’s S & D II, 1997, in which issues of queer identity, sexuality and mythmaking are explored through the superimposition of Chinese characters for “solid” and “robust” onto the face and upper torso of Cunningham, an Aboriginal man from the Armidale district in New South Wales. The image has been taken from an 1892 photograph originally from the studios of Australian photographers Charles Kerry and Henry King;  

Where’s Mickey | Credit: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Destiny Deacon’s Where’s Mickey?, a playful photograph that challenges binary distinctions that have shaped western culture and its constructions of race and gender by presenting Torres Strait Islander man Luke Captain dressed as a drag version of the iconic cartoon Mickey Mouse.

Florence Henri | Credit: AnOther Magazine

·         Intimate depictions of the female nude photographed by Germaine Krull and Florence Henri, two early twentieth century queer, women photographers. Krull’s Daretha (Dorothea) Albu (c. 1925) and Henri’s Figure Composition, reclining woman with shell (1930) are sensuous studies of the female body informed by the female gaze.

Capturing a Range of Experiences

Artworks by artists who identify as queer make up a large portion of the show. It is impossible for a single term to capture the wide range of lived experiences, represented in the exhibition’s artworks.

Credit: Supplied

Collectively, the art reflects queer culture in its many forms; an expression of sexual orientation and gender, as a philosophy, as a political movement, as a sensibility. And ultimately, as an attitude that defies definition.

This exploration addresses queer culture without omitting or obscuring the subcultural nature of its themes. Whilst the exhibition zooms in on peculiarities rather than a comprehensive history of queer art – it also raises questions about how museums collect and exhibit art related to queer identities.

Credit: Supplied

American Express is a principal partner on this innovative project. Naysla Edwards, Vice President of Brand, Charge Cards and Experience, American Express explains that,

‘At American Express we see diversity of people and experiences as fuel for creativity and innovation. It is therefore with enormous pride that we take our place as Principal Partner of QUEER: Stories from the NGV Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria. We encourage everyone to experience this truly extraordinary display and to rejoice in the beauty of individual expression through the ages.’   

A Complex Subject

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In keeping with the breadth and complexity of its subject, QUEER: Stories from the NGV Collection is being curated by an interdepartmental curatorial team including Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator of International Art; Dr Angela Hesson, Curator of Australian Art; Myles Russell-Cook, Senior Curator of Indigenous Art; Meg Slater, Assistant Curator of International Exhibition Projects; and Pip Wallis, Curator of Contemporary Art. 

QUEER: Stories from the NGV Collection runs from 10 March 2022 to 21 August 2022 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Free entry. Further information is available via the NGV website.

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