Oh, honey... A queer reading of the collection

What makes a work of art queer? Who decides?

Hey, you.

So, you clicked through to see what the queer art show was all about. Well, relax. Not even all of the art is “queer art.” Don’t get me wrong; there’s definitely sex stuff. Though, if that’s your only expectation of queer visual culture, you may need to check out some of the educational resources below. 

Mostly what you’ll find here is art that spoke to me and challenged me, as I was exploring UMMA’s collection for queer themes. 

The truth is, I had some trouble figuring out what “queer art” is myself. What makes a work of art queer? Is it the sexual identity and/or gender expression of its maker? The subject matter? Who decides? To me, defining “queerness” and then assigning that definition to works of art felt like an exercise in the kind of categorizing I was trying to resist.

Also, UMMA’s collection doesn’t offer a fully representative view of queer lives, experiences, and art practices. It has limits — it tells certain stories while omitting others. All museum collections do. (Check out Unsettling Histories for another exploration of this idea). So, I decided to ask a different set of questions: How does my own situated point of view, as a queer man / graduate student / art historian at the University of Michigan, frame my reading of what is present and absent in this collection? And how can I translate my encounters to you — the online museum visitor who maybe just wanted to see sex stuff? 

The answers are three. First, I sought out works of art that would allow us to question categories of gender and sexuality and the power dynamics that operate within them. Second, in the physical space, I arranged the objects so that they could respond to one another and even challenge one another (we will try to recreate that in this online space as well when the show officially launches this winter). Third, I tailored the gallery texts to promote questions and thought rather than provide fixed interpretations, inviting you to arrive at your own meanings.

So, relax, honey. This is your show as much as it is mine. It’s not perfect. The collection isn’t perfect. But, it’s a start.


Read More

Select objects in this exhibition

Check back for more objects, and exhibition-specific labels closer to show opening date.

The Sex Ed Class You Always Wish You’d Had

It’s no secret that sex education--the kind we experience in school--doesn’t begin to cover what we really need to know about our bodies, our relationships, our society, and how they all mix and mingle together to shape who we are and how we understand ourselves.

“The Sex Ed Class You Always Wish You’d Had” will be a YouTube series, developed on the occasion of the exhibition Oh, honey… A queer reading from the collection, to explore LGBTQ+ identity, relationships, politics, whole body health, the future, and more.

Learn how to be involved

Tracey Emin, Love is what you want, 2011, neon. Loan from Paola Luptak & Markus Jakobson, LTL2014.2.

Exhibition Support

Lead support for this exhibition is provided by Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard and the University of Michigan Office of the Provost.