Creative and bold, LGBTQ individuals have had an extraordinary impact on the visual arts.
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Harriet Hosmer moved to Rome to pursue a career as a sculptor and to live more independently as a woman—and openly as a lesbian.
Edmonia Lewis, an African American expatriate sculptor based in Rome, carved her majestic work The Death of Cleopatra. Scholars have suggested that, like Harriet Hosmer, Lewis was a lesbian.
Thomas Eakins painted his realist masterpiece The Swimming Hole, a vivid homoerotic depiction of six men at a lake.
Photographer F. Holland Day produced dozens of pictorialist images of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ—homoerotically featuring himself in the principle role. He also documented many people of color.
J. C. Leyendecker designed his first cover of The Saturday Evening Post—a publication for which he would produce 322 cover illustrations, many of which had hints of homoeroticism.
Marsden Hartley painted The Iron Cross, a memorial to his close friend and lover, Karl von Freyburg.
Painter John Singer Sargent met Thomas McKeller, who would become the primary model and muse for some of the artist’s most celebrated murals and bas-reliefs.
Romaine Brooks painted a striking self-portrait, fashioning herself as a confident and androgynous subject of the modern world.
A key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, writer and painter Richard Bruce Nugent contributed to two brush-and-ink drawings as well as a story to the groundbreaking journal FIRE!!.
Georgia O’Keeffe painted Black Iris, one of her earliest abstract works of flowers, which many scholars and critics have linked to the artist’s sexual identity.
Berenice Abbott documented many in her lesbian circle including Jane Heap and others. She later went on document New York.
Imbued with homoeroticism, Paul Cadmus’ satirical painting The Fleet’s In captured a wild world of military men and disreputable women.
Paul Cadmus, Jared French, and Margaret Hoening French commenced a photographic collaboration called PaJaMa, developing homoerotic images of their queer artistic community.
George Tooker painted Children and Spastics, a Surrealist work that featured a clique of posing men.
Painter Forrest Bess traveled from Texas to New York City, where he met with art dealer Betty Parsons, who would exhibit his abstract works for the next two decades.
George Quaintance illustrated the first cover of the beefcake magazine Physique Pictorial.
Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg became close friends, lovers, and artistic interlocutors.
John Cage performed his avant-garde composition 4’33”.
Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns met, beginning an artistic and romantic partnership that lasted until 1961.
Upon the death of photographer George Platt Lynes, his archive of male nudes was acquired by the Kinsey Institute.
Tom of Finland’s homoerotic illustration debuted on the cover of Physique Pictorial.
Ray Johnson began utilizing mail as a form of art.
Andy Warhol produced an experimental film, Sleep, which portrayed John Giorno, the poet and his lover, asleep for over five hours.
With its elaborate portrayals of sex and drag, Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures became a milestone in queer underground film.
Paul Thek commenced his influential “meat pieces,” influential mixed-media sculptures that evoked human flesh.
Artist and photographer Jim French started Colt Studio, a pioneering gay erotica brand.
Shirley Clarke directed Portrait of Jason, a cinéma vérité-style film pivoting around gay hustler and nightclub performer Jason Holliday.
The Cockettes, a raucous troupe of queer hippies and artists, formed in San Francisco.
Four Chicano artists in East Los Angeles formed a collective called Asco.
James Bidgood released his dreamy queer arthouse film Pink Narcissus.
Arthur Tress published his mesmerizing photo book The Dream Collector, which investigated the nightmares of children.
Harmony Hammond’s innovative floor pieces debuted at her exhibition at A.I.R. Gallery in New York City.
Abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly had his first American retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
Inspired by the women’s and gay liberation movements, Joan Synder started making her “stroke” paintings.
Barbara Hammer’s experimental film Dyketactics broke ground with its bold depiction of lesbian community and sexuality.
Alvin Baltrop started photographing gay life and sex along the West Side piers in New York City.
Photographer, artist, and writer Tee Corinne published her iconic The Cunt Coloring Book.
Peter Hujar published his first photo book, Portraits in Life and Death.
The third issue of Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics centered on the theme “Lesbian Art and Artists.” Due to its lack of racial diversity, the issue sparked crucial debates on the whiteness of the women’s and gay and lesbian movements.
Across sites of gay cruising, David Wojnarowicz photographed men who wore a mask bearing the likeness of gay modernist poet Arthur Rimbaud.
In his East Meets West series, photographer Tseng Kwong Chi started taking self-portraits in front of American landmarks.
JEB (Joan E. Biren) published her path-breaking photo book, Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians.
Martin Wong moved from San Francisco to New York City, where he painted the shifting social, economic, and cultural landscape of the Lower East Side.
Nan Goldin’s photo book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency tenderly documented love, sex, and violence in her queer artistic milieu.
Responding to the mushrooming HIV/AIDS pandemic, posters with the phrase “SILENCE=DEATH” appeared on the streets of New York City.
Lyle Ashton Harris’ photo series Americas underscored the social and visual construction of race, gender, and sexuality.
William Olander curated HOMO Video: Where We Are Now at the New Museum.
When Robert Mapplethorpe’s posthumous retrospective The Perfect Moment was cancelled at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, it ignited a national controversy about censorship and arts funding.
Surrealist sculptor Robert Gober started casting beeswax legs, disembodied with uncanny components.
A year before his AIDS-related death, world-renowned artist Keith Haring produced a mural, Once Upon a Time, for the LGBT Community Center in New York City.
In her photographic series Being and Having, Catherine Opie featured lesbian women wearing mustaches, tattoos, and other accessories of masculinity.
Glenn Ligon started his project Notes on the Margins of the Black Book—a powerful critique of Robert Mapplethorpe’s controversial portfolio, The Black Book.
fierce pussy, a collective of queer women artists, was born in New York City.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres devised Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)—a post-minimalist sculpture comprised of a pile of candy—in memory of his lover, Ross Laycock.
In her performance Rosa Does Joan, Nao Bustamante crafted an alternative persona, “Rosa,” and appeared on the Joan Rivers Show.
Performance artist Ron Athey started his radical “torture trilogy.”
Deborah Kass started “The Warhol Project,” a queer, feminist, and Jewish rereading of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art.
Against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis and the struggle for queer rights, Zoe Leonard typed up I Want a President.
Gregg Bordowitz’s video Fast Trip, Long Drip broached illness, queer identity, and the AIDS activist movement.
Artist Nayland Blake and curator Lawrence Rinder organized In a Different Light at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive—one of the first comprehensive exhibitions of queer art.
Del LaGrace Volcano’s Self-Portrait with Blue Beard marked a turning point in the photographer’s life: coming to terms with being intersex.
Laura Aguilar’s photographic series Stillness explored the relationship between landscape, embodiment, and identity.
Greer Lankton’s magnum opus, It’s All About ME, Not You, a multimedia installation her Chicago apartment in miniature, debuted—just before the artist’s AIDS-related death.
Agnes Martin was awarded a National Medal of Arts for her lifelong achievements in abstract painting.
Vaginal Davis produced her film The White to Be Angry.
An acronym for “Lesbians to the Rescue,” LTTR was formed as a feminist genderqueer arts collective.
Ryan Trecartin’s first major film, A Family Finds Entertainment, became a touchstone of queer new media art.
In her experimental memoir The Summer of Her Baldness, Catherine Lord used texts and images to chronicle her experience of breast cancer.
Photographers Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker started a romantic and creative partnership.
Due to its eleven seconds of ants crawling on a crucifix, David Wojnarowicz’s video Fire in My Belly was removed from the landmark show Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, curated by Jonathan D. Katz and David C. Ward at the National Portrait Gallery. This act of censorship was sorely reminiscent of the Culture Wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Mickalene Thomas’ Three Graces: Les Trois Femmes Noires reinterpreted a classical iconography through the lens of a Black queer woman.
Juliana Huxtable embarked on a series called Seven Archetypes, which reflected her experience of gender transition.
Carlos Motta’s exhibition We Who Feel Differently took place at the New Museum.
Jacolby Satterwhite’s project The Matriarch’s Rhapsody utilized 3D animation and other media to excavate a personal archive, conjuring up new realms of desire and belonging.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art became the first fully accredited LGBTQ art museum in the United States.
Cassils’ project PISSED underscored the urgency of transgender rights in the Trump era.
President Barack Obama selected Kehinde Wiley to paint his portrait for the National Portrait Gallery.
Wu Tsang was awarded a MacArthur Grant for her work in film, performance, and activism.
The work of Kia LaBeija appeared on the cover of Artforum.
Kent Monkman painted two monumental works for the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.