In the wake of the November elections, in which pro-marriage equality ballot initiatives passed in three states and in which a fourth state beat back an anti-marriage constitutional amendment, I spent my February Modern Painters column wondering:
Artists have engaged just about every major social movement in their work; from responding to the war in Vietnam to opposing torture, raising the profile of AIDS, and the rise of feminism, they have consistently—even predictably—made work within the vanguard of progressive thought. In the wake of last year’s elections, when Washington, Maine, and Maryland passed different ballot measures that made marriage equality a reality in those states, I tried to think of artwork that address the subject. I didn’t get far. Have artists mostly sat out this one?
“I would be hard pressed to find them either,” said Jonathan D. Katz, the co-curator of the landmark 2010 National Portrait Gallery exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” and the director of the doctoral program in visual studies at the University of Buffalo. “The reasons for their absence are quite significant and clear, which is to say that the very sort of counter-discourse that the art world tends to celebrate mitigates against a queer representation in a normative key. When I think about queer representation, I’m stuck again and again by the disproportionate representation of a kind of ‘pick-up scene’ over and against the reality of long-term couplehood.”
The rest of the pieces considers a number of the (few) artworks that explicitly address marriage equality and bounces around some other ideas on why artists have mostly not embraced the subject. Look for it at a newsstand near you, or subscribe for $20!