Art Once Shunned, Now Celebrated in ‘Found: Queer Archaeology; Queer Abstraction’

And in a photomural by the Los Angeles artist Ken Gonzalez-Day, the body is conspicuous through its absence. The mural is based on one of many photographs the artist has tracked down of lynchings of Latinos, Native Americans and Chinese immigrant men in California in the early 20th century. In the nocturnal picture used here, men milling around a tree look upward, but the object of their attention is missing. The artist has erased the form of the hanged victim, leaving dark, empty space.

The show has a small separate section of abstract work, with pieces by two consistently interesting and under-exhibited midcareer New York artists, Nancy Brooks Brody and Carrie Yamaoka. And throughout women are major contributors to the show’s queer rewriting of history and art history.

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An installation view of “Found: Queerness as Archaeology; Queer Abstraction.”

Credit
Riya Lerner

Angela Dufresne recalibrates the gender balances of Gustave Courbet’s famous 1855 depiction of his Paris studio in a picture of comparably heroic scale. In a deft, shrewd act of painterly transvestism — or transsexualism — Karen Heagle merges her own portrait with that of the renegade Viennese artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918). And Eve Fowler inscribes the revolutionary, logic-skewering language of the lesbian modernist Gertrude Stein on a large wood panel, a format that brings protest posters to mind.

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An installation view of “Found: Queerness as Archaeology; Queer Abstraction.”

Credit
Riya Lerner

In mentioning these artists, I’m talking about some of the most stimulating American figures around, who are joined on this show by others from Argentina, Brazil, Hong Kong, Israel and Lebanon. Taken as a whole, their work would do any museum proud, as would a suite of eight magical little paintings by Sam Gordon. Several feature what look like astrological signs; all incorporate scraps harvested from Mr. Gordon’s New York studio floor.

Almost everything in “Found,” which has been organized by the artist Avram Finkelstein, a founding member of the Silence = Death collective, is on loan for the occasion. But a second exhibition, “Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting,” a reduced version of a show that opened in the museum in March, is gleaned entirely from the permanent holdings. Assembled by Rob Rosen, the museum’s director of exhibitions, and Branden Wallace, its registrar, it includes many recent acquisitions and gives a good then-and-now sense of the institution’s thinking.

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Eve Fowler inscribes the revolutionary language of Gertrude Stein on a large wood panel in this 2012 work.

Credit
Mier Gallery, Los Angeles

At any point over the past several decades, for example, you might have found, hanging on Leslie-Lohman walls, a circa 1900 photograph of Sicilian youths by Wilhelm von Gloeden, or George Bellows’s 1923 print of a men’s bathhouse, or one of John Burton Harter’s academic 1980s nudes. You would have been far less likely to find the equivalent of Zanele Muholi’s portraits of the black South African lesbians, or Chitra Ganesh’s feminist mash-ups of South Asian comic strips, or anything at all resembling the doll-like hand-stitched sculptures of the transgender artist Greer Lankton — all of which have recently arrived in the collection and look completely at home in the show.

The museum has a history it can be proud of, a radical one. From the start, it championed an outcast art and stood boldly, unfashionably, by it. Now it is complicating its earlier aesthetic direction without compromising its social mission, which is a tough act to pull off. Whether the museum is, or will continue to be, as advertised, the only art institution of its kind doesn’t matter. It’s a museum that both stretches “gay” and resists “normal,” and for that it’s invaluable.

“Make being different your strength” could be its motto. Wasn’t that the lesson the 1960s were teaching when Mr. Leslie and Mr. Lohman first opened their home and their art to the public that summer — the summer of Stonewall, as it happened — all those years ago?

Correction: August 23, 2017

An earlier version of this review described incorrectly the status of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. It reopened last spring after renovations; it did not officially open then. (The museum has existed, in various forms, for nearly 50 years.) The review also misidentified the curator of an exhibition there, “Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting.” That show was organized by Rob Rosen and Branden Wallace, not by Gonzalo Casals.

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