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ART Jonathan David Katz on curating revolutionary 'Stonewall' exhibit
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2019-05-07

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On Wed., May 22, Wrightwood 659 will launch "About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art"—a major new exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.

Jonathan David Katz, Ph.D.—who, in 2016, co-curated "Art AIDS America" at Lincoln Park's now-closed Alphawood Gallery—is also curating "About Face." He is the Visiting Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies at The University of Pennsylvania and chair of the doctoral program in visual studies at the University at Buffalo.

Windy City Times: You co-curated Art AIDS America. What brought you back to Chicago this time?

Jonathan David Katz: Wrightwood 659 has an express purpose to offer exhibitions that are not offered by mainstream galleries. There is actually someone who's willing to put skin in the game and support alternative exhibitions.

What we have now is an exhibition that, in some ways, challenges the traditional vision of Stonewall. What we've tended is to see Stonewall as the beginning of a process that resulted in the gay and lesbian minority, and the straight majority. But what this exhibition does is to say, "Look: That idea was never the only one. There was always a group that said there wasn't a clear binary [or] a clear polarity between gay and straight—not that there should be one. [They also said] there isn't a clear polarity between male and female—nor should there be.

So the exhibition looks at all these attempts by all these various artists to cross and re-cross what re seen as separate territories. That includes questions of sexuality, gender and race.

WCT: How did you narrow down the works that are being shown?

JDK: Ultimately, two things came to the fore. I wanted to show great work, really important work. But I also wanted to show important work that wasn't being address by others. A lot of the stuff I'm showing have a U.S. premiere or a Chicago premiere. I didn't want a show that could be replicated at the Art Institute [of Chicago].

WCT: I noticed a mix of well-known artists, like Keith Haring, with others such as Del LaGrace Volcano.

JDK: Totally amazing photographer! [Volcano] is a world-class genius photographer. She was born in the United States, but being unapologetically intersex, has a career in Sweden, not in America. I've known Del's work for some time.

There's this one guy—Tianzhuo Chen—whose work is going to blow people away. He's a kid, but he's a genius.

This is a survey of the best in contemporary artwork.

WCT: You also are showing works by [late gay politician] Harvey Milk.

JDK: Yes. These are also amazing. It turned out that the archives he left includes hundreds and hundreds of photographs. Harvey, of course, made a living running a camera store in The Castro, which led me to believe he was a photographer—and, indeed, he was. We will see amazing work from the '50s.

WCT: You were really young when the Stonewall Riots occurred. Do you remember anything from it?

JDK: I was 10 or 11—so not much. But, I started to affiliate ( in my head ) when I was 13 or 14—and that's when I started paying attention to what had happened. And I certainly read books with interest.

WCT: And [late] Black filmmaker/artist] Marlon Riggs' work is present as well.

JDK: It'd be hard to conceive of this without him.

WCT: Would it be fair to say that education is more pertinent than entertainment with this exhibition?

JDK: Absolutely! The thing is that the lines become a little to draw because the works are incredible educational, but they're also incredibly entertaining.

I'll give you an example: a guy named Kent Monkman—who's arguable one of the most famous artists in Canada. He is one [part] Cree/indigenous, and the other side is European. His perspective is that the idea of a native identity is weirdly racist, as if somehow the indigenous people have not been subjected to the same influences that the rest of us have. So what he says is that all identity is hybrid—and that you can only claim your culture if you disallow those influences.

So his work materializes into this amazing series of films that are projected onto buffalo hides—and Native American dancers do these First Nation dances that slowly [incorporate] hip-hop moves. He is interested in showing how we're always hybrid. And about those "buffalo hides"—they're actually made with rice and steel, so that they look like hides but, up close, they reflect Euro influences.

WCT: So the hide is a hybrid, itself.

JDK: Exactly.

One other example is Zanele Muholi, whose work is really starting to catch fire here in the States. She's from South Africa, and she was among the very first to document queer culture in Black South Africa—and she took a lot of heat for that. Yet, she's just gotten stronger and stronger. She plays completely to and against European stereotypes. She inhabit various kinds of identities—and undercuts them while inhabiting hem.

Another person who merits mentioning is Amos Badertscher, who has a totally amazing story. He's lived in Baltimore all his life; he's spent 50 years as a photographer, and he's never been shown. But we are giving him a substantial exhibition. What's compelling about his work is that all his models are sex workers. He's interested in showing the whole complicated relationship [regarding] the power between the john and the hustler.

WCT: What do you want visitors to ultimately take away from the exhibition?

JDK: I want people to understand that Stonewall did not begin a process where queer people separated themselves from the mainstream. We've never been separate from the mainstream. In a lot of respects, we are the fucking mainstream.

So what this show is trying to say is that we're all hybrids.

Wrightwood 659 is at 659 W. Wrightwood Ave. "About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art" will run May 22-July 20. See wrightwood659.org .


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