As queer art becomes more mainstream, a group of young talents finds itself at the center of a larger cultural conversation.
A sideways glance, the locking of eyes, a wink. Historically, that was the queer gaze: furtive, coded, clandestine.
And now? In shows that sell out before they open, paintings by a group of emerging artists in New York have pulled back the curtain to let the public stare openly at queer carnality and domesticity. Same-sex intimacy no longer feels transgressive; it’s at the center of art world conversations. “The question is, will I sell the big landscape I made?” said Doron Langberg, 36, who is known for scrutinizing the male body as sensuously as Delacroix or Courbet depicted the female nude. “Because there is a movement in the art world to support queer content, something like a landscape might not sell.”
At various Chelsea galleries last fall, Jenna Gribbon, 42, exhibited canvases nearly seven feet high of her nude blonde partner, as seen through the artist’s parted naked legs. Justin Liam O’Brien, 30, depicted his husband eyeing a man being orally and anally penetrated at a sex party. Anthony Cudahy, 32, showed scenes of gay men, including his husband, relaxing in cozy familiarity and casual states of undress. This loosely connected group of artists attend one another’s openings and discuss their work on studio visits. Some go out dancing together and meet up on Fire Island. “It’s amazing to feel that I’m part of a community,” Gribbon said, noting that she has met many of her cohorts via a DM on Instagram. “Finding friends has been easier in this age of social media.”
In parallel with their success in commercial venues, these painters are being heralded by museums. Salman Toor, 38, who had a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art last year, is preparing for exhibitions at M Woods, in Beijing, in April, and at the Baltimore Museum of Art, in May. In a show of eight young figurative artists that opens at the end of March, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston will feature three queer New York painters: Ambera Wellmann, Louis Fratino, and Langberg. And, most remarkably, the Frick Collection is elevating young queer artists to celestial heights in a yearlong project, “Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters,” in which Gribbon, Toor, Langberg, and Toyin Ojih Odutola each present a painting made in response to a masterpiece by Vermeer, Rembrandt, or Holbein.
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