Saturday, November 8, 2008

New Era for Queer Museum?

So, in the vein of many of our class discussions, I've been thinking about collecting. What would intentionally queer collections look like, be composed of and displayed? Why not a queer museum? This blog is a contemporary supplement to the previous post in which I posture queerness on the phenomenon of pre-modern cabinets of curiosity.

Recently, I had an excellent bar conversation with fellow grads Akiko Jackson and Keith Mendak about why there are not widely-recognized queer museums. If black history museums and other minority/ethnic group museums persist, why not LGBTQ museums? Keith thinks this is because African-American museums are easier to mount as a counterpoint to the Western canon of museums, and that race is skin or surface, and much easier for our culture to deal with. As a puritanically-based, sexually-repressed culture, creating a queer museum would be taboo, as it delves deeper than the surface, to reveal our psychological and sexual layers of identity.

In googling "queer museum," one of the first hits I got was the introduction to a book on issues for museum practices:

"One response to the marginalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) perspectives in museums has been to make a bid for increased inclusivity. Such a gesture potentially foregrounds universalist notions of LGBT identity and desire. Queer theory, however, understands gender and sexuality as relational constructs, subject to historical and cultural variation. Against this backdrop, what would it mean to theorize the queer museum? This article engages with this question on a number of levels: it draws attention to the distorting effects that certain models drawn from contemporary identity politics generate in museums, especially in exhibitions with a historical focus, and it examines the role played by concepts of "public opinion" on representations of gender and sexuality in museum spaces. It also considers the challenge that queerness presents to the idea of the museum as a normalizing, meaning-making entity, and asks how these concerns are already being addressed in museum practice." from "Theorizing the Queer Museum." in Museums & Social Issues, Volume 3, Number 1. Left Coast Press, Inc. Spring 2008.

Well, it appears some thinkers have been down this queer road before... So queer museums could be in unconventional places, such as that of the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago, thus celebrating queerness at its source. Or staged in community-oriented spaces, such as the Queer Cultural Center, in San Francisco, a city that is itself a virtual museum of queer culture. The queer museum could be composed of work by queer artists, straight artists making work about queer issues, or artworks that pertain to or uphold queer theory. Such a museum would also perform as a venue for collecting artifacts of sex, sexuality, gender and identity.

Now that the United States has a person of color as president for the first time in our history, I cannot help but wonder how our institutions of minority celebration will change in context. Certainly, there are scholars raising questions as to the validity of such institutions in a modern era that is perhaps “post-minority” or "post-identity," as exemplified by the election of Barack Obama, a mixed-race person. I personally hope this new era of American politics and presidency will strengthen minority institutions. WASP male culture still pervades our everyday lives, whether it is acknowledged in academia or otherwise. As I have much hope for human rights policy changes under a new and mostly Democratic government, it would be an awesome time for the emergence of a bonafide queer museum in the USA. It's crazy to think that someday there may be a national GLBTQ History Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. And if there is, I want to be the art curator!


Dre said...

I wonder if the challenge in creating such a museum would eventually come from trying to determine what NOT to include. If you think about it, reality is queer more than it is straight: wherever boundaries and "norms" are set, they are broken, even by people who are supposed to be within the norm. But these things are done in private, preserving the status quo on the surface. I see a queer museum as a celebration of personal freedom and letting go of the fear of our own nature. People can get so uptight, we forget that some of the rules we follow are a reflection of another time and of people who are not like us (or maybe they were but were repressing what was lighthearted in them). Remember the other day we were eating lunch at a window was raining and a student bopped by listening to music. He was really dancing down the street. I said seeing people like that made me own longing to throw "normal" out the window and stop caring about what "other people" think. I'd love to visit your queer museum!

King VCU Grad PHTO Research said...

Dre -

So would the focus of "queer" as "other" also fall to the form itself of the museum? Let's face it - when we think "art museum," there is a bit of a canon to how it is presented to us -
Large, open spaces, immaculately white walls, and a certain reverence we are all to hold.

So would this museum possibly be built without the standard quadrilateral rooms ... or perhaps stay quadrilateral, but move into a shape like a rhombus?

Could be a nifty way - rather than having it split by sexuality, have it split by anything that goes against the standards, pushes us to new planes.

Akiko Jackson said...

The idea of a queer museum is fascinating, however, I still become frustrated with the structures we live in, such as the canon of what a museum is, and within this definition, what should the public be seeing within the museum.


A building that stores and exhibits objects of importance? Does this mean everything outside the museum is not important in the cultural context of our society? If so, why would you want to be there in the first place? If we yearn to be represented in a museum, does that mean we have been conditioned to conform to the societal structures, that we fight against everyday?

We should just run naked in the streets.



Akiko Jackson said...

ok, so I thought about what I said, and the importance of museums in our society is a huge component to learning and understanding of our history and current lives... I just had a brain explosion of frustration and thought to alleviate the tension, running in the streets naked would make point of freeing ourselves. hehe.

I just hope there will be a positive shift in understanding and acceptance of everyone and everything. Maybe it will occur sooner than later? Hopefully in our lifetime. Change will come....

Aaron McIntosh said...

Akiko's comments bring up a perfectly valid point: the museum as institution may well be the worst place to embrace, showcase,celebrate, and educate the larger culture about queer culture. This is because once something is institutionalized, its essence of being is "watered-down" just a little--made easier, less messy for the masses to handle. Still, for all of the "bigger picture" that the masses may be missing in a minority institution, they are at least exposed to the "big picture," and for me, this is important, if not necessary.