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Queering the Catalogue: A Look at Queer, Gay, and Trans Art and Artists

Patrick J. Raftery, Jr.
March 20, 2019


From Trans(New York, N.Y.: Jarret Key, 2017)

Some LGBTQA+ artists have achieved world-renowned fame: Tom of Finland, David Hockney, Claude Cahun, and Glück, to name a few. However, there are many others whose work is less well-known but who provide important glimpses into the lives and struggles of their community. These artists showcase the sexual, secretive, radical/political, and heart wrenching-moments that many, if not all, members in the community have experienced. Moreover, there is still a stigma that clouds over both LGBTQA+ artists and the art itself. Fortunately, here at Thomas J. Watson Library, we collect an encyclopedic and comprehensive collection of materials on the history of art in the world. Our online catalogue provides a great starting place to find an ample amount of materials to explore LGBTQA+ art. Here are a few to get you started!

Jarrett Key is a Brooklyn-based visual artist. In his artist's book Trans (see above), Key explores signs and symbols with relation to transgender and gender identities and public restrooms.


From Faces and Phases(Munich: Prestel, 2010)

Zanele Muholui is a South African artist whose photobook, Faces and Phases, presents portraits of black lesbian women, trans-men, and gay men, who are resisting homophobia, queerphobia, and transphobia, or who may have also fallen victim to "curative rapes" and/or murder.


From The Male Ideal: Lon of New York and the Masculine Physique (New York: Universe, 2003)

Alonzo "Lon" Hanagan, known as Lon of New York, was a physique photographer whose career started in the 1930s. Lon's photography was influenced by classical Greco Roman masculine poses. What sets Lon apart from other physique photographers is that he primarily photographed non-white, Latino, Mediterranean, and African American men. His negatives and works were destroyed by the police on multiple occasions, and he was arrested for his work under obscenity laws. Check out some of his work in The Male Ideal: Lon of New York and the Masculine Physique.


From The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga (Berlin: Bruno Gmüender GmbH, 2016)

Gengoroh Tagame, Japanese "bara-manga" artist legend, is known for his erotic hyper masculine art works and stories. The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga illustrates how he broke from the mold of the slim, clean-shaven "Twink" stereotypes of gay culture, exhibiting large, muscular, and hairy men (often dubbed "Bears"). Tagame is also an archivist of gay erotic art.


From Pages (New York: Peradam, 2013)

Linda Simpson, a legendary New York City drag queen, published her first photobook, Pages, in 2013. Pages shows the beauty and style of the gender-bending club life frequented by Simpson's transgender friend, Page.


From The Piers (Madrid: TF Editores, 2015)

Alvin Baltrop is a photographer whose book The Piers centers on the deteriorating Christopher Street Piers, which was a popular destination for gay men to cruise, sunbathe, and have public sex. It was also a safe haven for many LGBTQA+ youth, particularly those of color.


From Doll Parts (New York: Regan Arts, 2017)

Amanda Lepore, queen of New York City night life and transgender performance artist, spills all the tea in her autobiography and memoir, Doll Parts.


From Voguing and the ballroom scene of New York City 1989-92 (London: Soul Jazz Records, 2011)

In Voguing and the Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989–92, you can learn about the history of New York City's balls and houses. The gay black- and Latinx-dominated houses where voguing was born created more than just dance parties. They also created families, identities, and safe havens for queer persons of color. The fashion, art, dance, and creativity only represent the surface of their importance.


From On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories (New York: Rizzzoli, 2016)

We also have On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories, photographer Mark Seliger's photo-documentary portrait of trans people on Christopher Street. See the beauty of their presence and read the accompanying quotes.


From Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017)

Want to know more about working queer and trans artists and the challenges they face today? Check out, Queer & Trans Artists of Color (two volumes) by Nia King. For more on the discourse surrounding trans art and artists, see, Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility.


From Militant Eroticism: The ART+Positive Archives (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017)

Art+Positive, an affinity group of ACT UP NY, used art and activism to combat AIDS phobia, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and censorship. Militant Eroticism: The ART+Positive Archives is an exhibition catalogue, from 2015, published to accompany a survey of their work.


From Queer Threads (Los Angeles, C.A.: Ammo, 2017)

A final suggestion would be Queer Threads, an exhibition catalogue from a show at the Leslie/Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York, in which fiber and textiles are used as a medium for exploring queer culture.

Patrick Raftery

Patrick J. Raftery Jr. is a senior library associate for technical services in Thomas J. Watson Library.