One summer night in 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay dive bar in New York’s Greenwich Village (John Waters said the “uppity gays would never go there”). While the police raided Stonewall for not having a liquor license, many saw it as an excuse to target sex workers and criminalize the gay community. Then something happened – the LGBTQ community fought back in a way that had never been seen before. For six consecutive days, the gay community held a series of protests to fight for their rights, some held signs that read: “Stonewall means fight back!” and “Smash gay oppression!”
This historic moment (and now, a historic landmark), which sparked the gay rights movement, wouldn’t be remembered without the photographers and artists who documented the protests, its lead-up and aftermath.
As gay pride parades kick off in various cities across America, they will have a different meaning with the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Even with the legalization of gay marriage in 2015 and ever-increasing trans visibility, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done for the LGBTQ community in America. Artists, above all, are tackling these ideas and their works are on view this summer. From New York to Boston and Houston, here are some of the art exhibitions across the US that are celebrating Stonewall 50.
Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall
The Brooklyn Museum is showcasing a younger, fresher look at Stonewall by featuring the voices of 28 LGBTQ artists who were born after 1969. A kind of political manifesto, the artists look at the intersection between politics and gay rights, such as Tuesday Smillie, who crafts banners emblazoned with emotionally charged phrases (one says “We fuck up sometimes”), as well as protest signs by Elektra KB (one reads: “Death = Silence”). Until 8 December.
Art After Stonewall, 1969-1989
How did the Stonewall riots affect the art world? New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and the Leslie-Lohman Museum, both in Manhattan, are showcasing a two-part exhibit that attempts to answer that question. More than 200 artworks trace how artists reacted to the gay rights movement. From Andy Warhol to Keith Haring and photographers such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Art After Stonewall shows how artists saw things differently from the news reports at the time. “LGBTQ history didn’t start in 1969, it has a long, complicated history,” said the curator Jonathan Weinberg. “Stonewall represented a turning point.”
The New York Historical Society is tracing the history of gay culture, activism and nightlife throughout the second half of the 20th century. As part of this sprawling, multi-part exhibition, there are a pair of Doc Martens from a march in 1993, photos from pride marches in the 1980s and Aids awareness pins. They’re also showing highlights from the lesbian herstory archives, one of the largest archives of lesbian history. Until 22 September.
Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50
The New York Public Library’s Fifth Avenue location is honoring the trailblazing gay rights activists that paved the path for the LGBTQ community today, beyond Martha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera. This historic exhibit traces the injustices leading up to the riots – arrests, harassment and violence – through reports, photos and protest paraphernalia from the archives of photojournalists Kay Tobin Lahusen and Diana Davies, who photographed activists throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Until 13 July.
Voice of the Village: Fred W McDarrah Photographs
New York photographer Fred W McDarrah was a photographer for the Village Voice, and is known for capturing Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan through the 1970s. However, he was also one of the very few photographers to capture the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Two concurring exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York in Manhattan celebrate the artist’s overlooked achievements. Opening 6 June, his retrospective Voice of the Village puts over 150 photos on view alongside a smaller exhibit, Pride, showing 40 photos of pride marches throughout the years. “We thought it was the perfect time to take a closer look at his photography,” said co-curator Sarah J Seidman. “He captured LGBT life in New York City.”
Stonewall: 50 Years Out
Upstate, the Rochester public library is showcasing a Stonewall exhibition that zeroes in on Rochester’s role in helping legalize gay marriage in the state of New York back in 2011 (when a Rochester Republican voted in favor). Curated by the city historian Christine Ridarsky, there are photos, documents and items from the city’s public archive on view. Until 20 July.
Stonewall 50 Displays of Banners and Art
As part of Boston Pride, the History Project is launching a series of banners, placards and posters on view at various locations around Boston to celebrate pride. It sheds light on Boston’s role in the Stonewall uprising, and each banner will be paired up with its own web link, explaining its own local history.
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is showcasing a selection of political art, from paintings to photos, films and videos that delve into gay rights, transgender visibility and to international LGBTQ issues. Until 28 July, the curator Dean Daderko is showing paintings by Chicago artist Christina Quarles alongside photos by the South African artist Zanele Muholi. “The artists encourage us to reflect on what has been fought for and should be celebrated, both then and now,” said the museum’s director, Christina Brungardt. “As these artists tell their stories, an international and intergenerational picture of our contemporary moment begins to emerge.”