A scroll through SAAM's website or a stroll through our galleries usually leads with visuals: the colors, mediums, or subject matter of an artwork is the star, our eyes drawn to the literal details of an artwork. Just as often, people are interested in seeing themselves and their stories represented in the collection, and addressing identity is something that SAAM’s curators approach thoughtfully through ongoing discussions of the complexities and nuances of referencing identity, and in particular sexual identity, within the context of an object’s wall label. Curator Saisha Grayson explored the issues of identity and visibility in a 2019 story about a video work by Chitra Ganesh and Simone Leigh (as Girl) that had been recently added to the museum’s collection. She notes that the labels in the museum “do not convey to our audiences in a sustained way that the diversity of the United States, including in sexual orientation, is indeed on view at SAAM.”
As June begins and Pride celebrations around the world commence, here is one way to connect with a few LGBTQ+ artists whose work is included in SAAM’s collection, and whose identity and experience in the world connects in some way to their work. We hope you get to know an artist who is new to you or learn something new about a favorite through this selection of artworks, blog posts, videos, and more.
Alfonzo was born in Cuba and fled the Castro regime in 1980; he died of AIDS in 1991. Where Tears Can't Stop conveys the violence that Alfonzo experienced before he fled Cuba as well as the rumors, fear, and mistreatment that swirled around HIV-positive people in the early days of the epidemic.
Carlos Almaraz, who was born in Mexico City in 1941 and died in Los Angeles in 1989, was a pioneering Chicano artist who produced art for the United Farm Workers Union and cofounded Los Four, one of the earliest Chicano collectives.
Romaine Brooks (1874 – 1970) lived most of her life in Paris where she was a leading figure of an artistic counterculture. Brooks suffered an abusive childhood but triumphed as an adult, embracing gender fluidity and her queer identity.
Paul Cadmus and George Tooker were artists, friends, and for a time, lovers. They shared studio space in Greenwich Village and were part of a close-knit group of queer artists in New York City in the 1940s.
Chitra Ganesh draws on Buddhist and Hindu iconography, science fiction, queer theory, comics, Surrealism, Bollywood posters, and video games to create multimedia works that address representations of femininity, sexuality, and power.
Born in 1944 to a Mexican/Yaqui farmworker family in California’s Joaquin Valley, Ester Hernandez was aware from an early age of her artistic and social activism talents. In addition to weaving environmental concerns throughout her work, Hernandez’s art also speaks to political and social issues such as LGBTQ+ rights and her pride as a queer Latina woman.
Tseng Kwong Chi
Tseng Kwong Chi was born in Hong Kong in 1950 and emigrated with his family to Canada in 1966. As an adult, Tseng moved to Paris, where he studied photography and, in 1978, to New York City. There he found his niche in the burgeoning East Village art scene, in particular, among the groovy, gender-fluid cohort that congregated at Club 57.
Simone Leigh is known for ceramic and bronze sculptures, video, social practice, and collaborative performance. In 2022, Leigh became the first Black woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, winning the Golden Lion for Best Participant in the central exhibition.
Geo Soctomah Neptune (Passamaquoddy) has been weaving baskets since the age of four, when they first began taking lessons from their grandmother. Neptune is an activist, educator, model, drag performer, and public servant. In September 2020, they were elected to their local school board, becoming the first openly transgender elected official and the first two-spirit person to run for any office in Maine.
Born in Virginia in 1918, Bernard Perlin moved to New York City after high school to study art. During World War II, he was an artist correspondent for Life and Fortune magazines. He returned to New York to document the “cocktail culture” of the late 1950s. In 2009, he married his partner of 54 years, Edward Newell.
Through their artwork, L. J. Roberts, who learned to stitch from their grandmother as a child, uses assumptions about knitting as feminine and amateur art to challenge the very notion of essentialized gender. In this video, Roberts talk about the creation of The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Breukelen, Boswyck, and Midwout in the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era in SAAM’s collection.
When Mickalene Thomas was in art school, she couldn’t afford traditional materials and gravitated towards craft stores and the glitter and rhinestones available there. Her paintings speak to female empowerment and of women of color owning and defining their own spaces.