(K. Brent Tomer),
WHEN art historians write up the current decade, they are likely to call “Queer British Art 1861-1967” a “landmark exhibition”. Tate Britain has produced that rarity: a show that causes viewers to look at art anew. By focusing on artworks reflecting “non-conforming sexualities and gender identities”, it draws attention to the unexamined assumptions that underpin the Western artistic canon. For centuries, this show reminds us, “great art” has privileged the male view of the female body, establishing heterosexuality as the norm.
Yet beyond this “male gaze”, a “queer gaze” has also run in parallel, albeit in a coded or hidden form; “Queer British Art” fleshes out the ways artists expressed these forbidden sexualities. The chosen period is framed by two key legal rulings: in 1861 the death penalty for sodomy was abolished in Britain; in 1967, sex between consenting adult men was decriminalised. In the century between, social conceptions of sexuality shifted, simultaneously narrowing and expanding.
The show unfolds chronologically, as a narrative of change. Those expecting titillation will be largely disappointed. This is a subtle, deeply academic show with an…Continue reading