BY Tannon Reckling in Opinion | 28 DEC 23

The Year in Review: We Need More Queer Thoughts

After a spate of gallery closures in New York, how might contemporary art find a balance in the turbulence of the city?

BY Tannon Reckling in Opinion | 28 DEC 23

This past autumn, Queer Thoughts, the New York gallery operated by artists Miguel Bendaña and Sam Lipp, closed after 11 years. Expanding their space from its origins in a small Chicago apartment, the pair were influential in developing the careers of artists including Chelsea Culprit, Catherine Mulligan, Paul P., Puppies Puppies (Jade Kuriki Olivo), David Rappeneau, Dean Sameshima, Mindy Rose Schwartz, Diamond Stingily and Bri Williams.

Currently the subject of a solo show at the New Museum in New York, Puppies Puppies had her first US exhibition at Queer Thoughts in 2012, with the gallery playing no small part in her meteoric, art-world ascent. Depicting the evil, all-seeing eye from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (2001–03) – a pop-cultural metaphor for the oppressive overlapping power structures that tamp the development and visibility of queer artists – Untitled (Sauron) (2017), the artist’s billboard for the Whitney Biennial, seemed almost to anticipate the conditions that would lead to the shuttering of the gallery which launched her career.

Puppies Puppies (Jade Kuriki Olivo), Untitled (Sauron), 2017, billboard. Courtesy: the artist and the Whitney Museum of American Art

Queer Thoughts is just one of a number of smaller spaces that have sadly announced their closure this past year. Others include Jasmin T. Tsou’s JTT – which, for more than a decade, showcased prominent artists such as Doreen Lynette Garner, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Tamara Santibañez, Sable Elyse Smith and Issy Wood – and Foxy Production, founded by Michael Gillespie and John Thomson, which closed after 20 years of promoting cutting-edge work and a roster of artists including Olga Chernysheva, K8 Hardy, Sojourner Truth Parsons and Sterling Ruby.

The queer community is not only confronting the closure of several significant art spaces, however. Editors, scholars and artists have also recently faced losing their jobs or having their exhibitions cancelled for voicing their concerns about structural violence. And, even in the art world, there seems currently to be a backlash against the last decade of diversity, equity and inclusion. In light of the impending US presidential elections in 2024, and their associated hollow culture wars, what does this changing landscape mean for the arts in the 2020s?

Diamond Stingily, Art Basel Statements, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Queer Thoughts, New York

In her essay ‘Critically Queer’ (1993), Judith Butler asserts that the term ‘queer’ must never purport to fully describe those it seeks to represent. It is meant to be ‘vanquished’ by those who are excluded by the term but ‘who justifiably expect representation by it’. In other words: we must let it take on meanings that cannot now be anticipated by a younger generation whose political vocabulary may well carry ‘a very different set of investments’. How might we remember this in a new decade of queer art and critical spaces that struggle against a differently oppressive mainstream? How will small galleries and expansively queer art communities push through in ways they haven’t yet to make fantastic artwork that speaks to the intense material circumstances we are living within?

David Rappeneau, untitled, 2022, acrylic, ballpoint pen, pencil, charcoal pencil, acrylic marker on paper, 40 × 29 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Queer Thoughts, New York

I ask Bendaña and Lipp these questions when we meet to discuss the closure of their gallery. ‘Queer Thoughts was started in a closet in Chicago, sparked by the DIY ethos of that city,’ Lipp says. ‘There is still an urgency to create new queer spaces today, but explorations beyond the traditional gallery model may be the most promising.’ ‘There’s a lot you can do with very limited resources,’ Bendaña continues. ‘Support the freaks.’

Main image: Puppies Puppies (Jade Kuriki Olivo), Untitled (Sauron), 2017, billboard. Courtesy: the artist and the Whitney Museum of American Art

Tannon Reckling is an HIV-positive writer, curator and arts worker. They are interested in messy queer ontologies, hacked technologies, nuanced shadow labour and collaborating with you. Reckling has been at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.