If you haven’t seen “Hide/Seek” at Tacoma Art Museum, you’ve probably heard of it: a groundbreaking, controversial show initially mounted at the Smithsonian of major American art with a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender theme. Now Northwest artists have responded to the show and its issues with a show of their own. “Queering the Museum” features 19 artists in a thought-provoking group show at downtown Tacoma venue The Space, opening this weekend, with associated events at Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery and Tacoma Art Museum.
Curator Erin Bailey has made the most of the unusual geography of The Space, an alternative non-profit venue that hosts music and other arts events. The works curve around from the front lobby through to the open back area, their placement making its own statement about taking gender as you find it. Not all was complete when I walked through the show; it opens Saturday with an artist reception.
At the front are a group of photo-portraits recently hung at the University of Puget Sound’s Collins library: T-Town Transgender Neighbors. Then, as now, conventionally posed but sympathetic shots by Irielle Dean show local transgender folks at Tacoma landmarks, occasionally hitting the visual jackpot as with “Lukas G.” slouched defiantly in front of the graffiti garages.
Curving around the wall to the back will be an installation of screenprinted ants, along with some screenprinted candy, a logical follow-on from the Felix Gonzalez-Torres “portrait” of his AIDS-infected lover, piled in candy on the Tacoma Art Museum floor. Another direct reference to “Hide/Seek” is Abby Lazerow’s painting of an emotion-laden deathbed scene, the wallpaper and people merging in a patchwork of flowers in saturated pinks and blues, just like the comforter over the corpse in AA Bronson’s “Felix.”
Other comments are more subtle. A trio of photographs by Rafael Soldi, white on a lipstick-red alcove, show two young men in white underwear embracing in a white room, calm and almost innocent. Says Hitson: “I wanted to showcase a wide variety of identity and emotions, not just eroticism, to get out of the stereotyping. Because that’s what “Hide/Seek” felt like to me.”
The rest of the show varies a lot in quality. Some more mundane works contrast with highly original ones, like the devastatingly exposed stare of the two Nepalese hijra (transgender men) by Rebecca Maxim; the collaborative painting by Hall/Schmidt of naked bathhouse women staring in shock at one another; the superimposed portraits of artist Erin Oly and her father, sadly gazing; Clyde Peterson’s playful shots of himself appearing multiple times in a cozy living room get-together.
One of the best little trios of identity is that of Tacoma artists Holly Senn and Amy Ryken. Above a booklet of Ryken’s exploring elementary kids’ views on her gender (boy or girl?) is a lovely duo portrait of the two by Senn, their gender-ambiguous silhouettes (the classic vase) facing each other over a disparaging vintage text on tomboys. Right alongside is a soft, protective paint portrait of the two by Cody Blomberg.
Whether you’ve seen “Hide/Seek” or not, “Queering the Museum” is worth a visit just to realize (if you need to) that while identity is as varied as Earth’s population, we all share the same emotions.
“Queering the Museum” opens with a free reception 7:30-10 p.m. May 12 and through July 30 at The Space, 729 Court C (Opera Alley), Tacoma. 253-282-2303, facebook.com/thespacetacoma
Other events include a presentation by “Hide/Seek” co-curator Dr. Jonathan Katz at the Henry Arts Gallery at 6:30 p.m. Friday night, as well as a symposium at 10 a.m. May 12 at the Henry and one at 2:30 p.m. plus gallery tour at Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. 253-272-4258, tacomaartmuseum.org
More information: queeringthemuseum.org