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19.09.2017 | Words by: DS

After a summer break, Het Klaslokaal returns with a brand new trilogy on queer art. Every edition, a different important time frame in modern queer art is discussed. After a sold out first edition on the early 20th century it's time for class number two: the late 20th century. You can find more info and tickets on our program. Please note that classes are in Dutch.

We asked the the initiator, Léon Kruijswijk some questions on the series.

What sparked your interest in queer art?

There are several factors that play along. First of all I identify as queer. I get very disturbed by stereotyping in particular when it comes to gender and sexuality, which unfortunately still is very common. Many people still classify (other) people in two forms: man/woman, gay/straight, etc. However, many different positions, identities and sexualities exist. For example, I have regularly been asked: ‘hey, who’s the guy and who’s the girl of the two of you?’. This always makes me wonder why it is so hard for many people to think beyond these binaries. To oppose those structures, I confront the ones who ask this sort of questions in order to set something in motion, hopefully.

Furthermore, I have done several art studies, have visited many exhibitions, and have worked for several art spaces and institutions. It very often strikes me that queer elements barely receive attention, even if these are an essential part of the artwork. To consider an artwork queer, or to queer an artwork, means to ‘read’ it in a certain: to highlight the elements relating to questions on and critique of gender and sexuality.

There is a myriad of artists who artistically challenge these concepts within their art. A prime example is Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego Rrose Sélavy from the 1920s. As a queer, I feel drawn to those kinds of artworks, which makes me want to go out and see related art. For this reason, I have been researching artists who question conventions and traditional frameworks relating to gender and sexuality for some time now.

The first class is on the early 20th century. Why is there no lecture on queer art before that? 

Although some courses of my studies dealt with ancient times, among others, I have always been highly interested in modern and contemporary art. Mid 19th century, art became more autonomous; to convey a religious or historical meaning became less of a necessity, and artists started to create as they pleased. From approx. 1900 and onwards, avant-garde artists really took off with artistic experiments. In the modernist era, they explored new strategies and subjects, also regarding gender and sexuality. I have always been intrigued by those experimental ways of making art. Side note: even in ancient times, for example, artists or artisans created artworks we would identify as queer, but I am glad to leave research on this era up to someone else.

What's your personal favorite piece of queer art?

That is a difficult question because there are so many beautiful relevant artworks I can think of. Let me pick three. I am fascinated by Claude Cahun’s (FR 1892-1972) self-portraits. Every time she wears a different costume, and thereby she takes on a different identity. In this photo (link) she is dressed up as a seductive but reserved bodybuilder. She is provoking contact by looking straight into the camera, and she clearly diffuses male/female oppositions.
The second artist I greatly admire is Wolfgang Tillmans (Germany, 1968). He creates abstract landscapes and still life photos. Also, he creates videos and photos as homage to rave and queer subcultures, for example The Cock (kiss), 2002 (link). The image is confronting and explicit; it is way different than LINDA.meiden’s attempt to ‘break boundaries’ by putting two picture perfect, kissing straight girls on its cover. Tillmans’ image affirms the latter’s commercial intention painfully.
I am also very intrigued by Ryan Trecartin’s practice (USA 1981). Within his absurdist videos he creates a completely different world. These videos are often exhibited in the context of an installation especially made for it. In his practice, he explores fluid forms of personal and group identities, and questions contemporary experiences of Western consumerism, the digital age and popular culture. His art goes beyond the imagination of many people (or, let me speak for myself, it goes beyond my imagination). He creates imaginative, hallucinatory dimensions, which still relate to current societies. Here is a fragment of the video called CENTER JENNY from 2013.
Which museum is a current pioneer when it comes to queer art? 

The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven structurally deals with queer issues through its 'Queering the Collection' program. Last weekend at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the exhibition 'The Crossing' by Carlos Motta opened, including video portraits of LGBTQI+ refugees in the Netherlands. I have not visited it yet, but I am eager to go see it. Also, the Stedelijk currently has intriguing photos and documents by Zanele Muholi on view. Furthermore, several smaller art spaces regularly present queer-related exhibitions and events, such as Framer Framed, NEVERNEVERLAND and Rongwrong.
What was a highlight from the first edition? Did people that want to attend the second and third edition miss out on anything?

Of course I would recommend visiting all my classes. What you missed is a selection of compelling and critical artworks made in the first half of the 20th century. Many showed how queers were able to create safe spaces by means of their artworks and artist communities. At a time when homosexuality was criminalised, they creatively defied prevalent traditional and conservative standards and worldviews.

More info on Het Klaslokaal can be found here. The next edition is Wednesday September 20th, starting 20.00. Classes are in Dutch.
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