Yesterday the world’s first museum of queer art celebrated the opening of its inaugural exhibition in a newly expanded space.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, founded thirty years ago in Soho, has spread out from its longtime storefront space on Wooster Street into an adjacent property. Inside, visitors are greeted by Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting, staged in a bright and airy gallery designed by architect Steven Keith.
As the title suggests, Expanded Visions digs into the Leslie-Lohman archives to showcase work by and for queer people, many of them New Yorkers. The 250 sculptures, paintings, and photographs on display are drawn from 30,000 works in the permanent collection that span over 500 years of history.
Museum founders Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman (1922-2009) have spent more than a half-century collecting art that reflects the LGBT experience; their efforts and networks helped preserve work that would have otherwise been lost to history. New acquisitions will both represent lesbian and trans artists and honor the founders’ collecting interest in works that depict gay male life.
Expanded Visions, said executive director Gonzalo Casals, is meant to be both a mirror and a window. “If you’re queer, we hope you see yourself represented in this work,” he said.”If you’re not, this is a window to understand the other—to create empathy to empower and inspire.”
Pieces by well-known artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol are displayed near Grey James and Cathy Cade to celebrate queer identity and tell stories about censorship, the HIV/AIDS crisis, beauty, body image, and queer social spaces that sustain community. Although much of the work on view is from the 20th century, and depicts familiar New York moments and places, the exhibition is a survey featuring work from artists as far back as the 19th and 18th centuries. Movable beveled paneled walls in standard-issue gallery white open up a room that, due to a bisecting row of cast iron columns, could otherwise feel too crowded.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum commissioned Keith, who’s based in New York, to realize an expansion that includes new staff offices, storage space, and a gift shop. The larger space will be an asset to its mission: The museum’s small size, explained former interim director Meryl A. Allison, would force it to close during installation and de-installation, but the 2,300 square feet of new space allows the museum to welcome visitors even as shows change over. Keith’s work, which started in October 2016 and finished last week, increased Leslie-Lohman’s total footprint to 5,600 square feet.
The new space, at 26 Wooster Street in Manhattan, officially opens tomorrow, March 10. More information about exhibitions, programming, and hours of operation can be found here.