Preserving Queer History

There is a museum in New York City, located in SoHo, called the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art. The collection was formed in 1969 by a gay couple in their SoHo loft, Charles Leslie and Frederic “Fritz” Lohman. They explicitly chose to display art by queer artists as it was a barely touched portion of the art world, and remains so to this day. When the AIDS crisis struck New York, the couple began to frantically collect art from dead and dying artists, trying to preserve their shared history from families who did not care. The collection was accredited as a museum in 2016, becoming the first and only museum dedicated to displaying and preserving queer art. In 2019, the museum announced plans to transform the museum into more of a cultural center, with a learning center and research library in addition to the preexisting galleries.

The mission of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art dovetails nicely with Adrienne Rich’s poem Study of History from her collection The Fact of a Doorframe. Both focus on queer history that has been buried for years, intending to bring light to those hidden histories. The final stanza of the poem includes the lines “we have never entirely/known what was done to you upstream”, describing the uncertainty that surrounds queer history (Rich 72). The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art attempts to bring that history to light through exhibitions and accepting donated artworks into its permanent collection. Both the poem and the museum explore queer history, through the consequences of burying and the benefits of preservation respectively. Through preservation of queer art from the late 1960s onwards, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art avoids the the silence described in Rich’s poem, creating a space for queer history to be told.

4 thoughts on “Preserving Queer History”

  1. Morningflower, the connection that you make between this museum and Adrienne Rich makes a lot of sense to me. I find this question about what history is preserved and valued to be very interesting. We learned in Angels in America that queer people were silenced and shamed during the AIDS crisis, so hearing about their artwork being valued is one bright light in this dark time. This post reminded me of a greater question this semester, which is how I have missed and not been aware of much of the artwork we have looked at in class. This brings up questions about who benefits financially from media I consume, and how to more directly profit marginalized people. For example, I wrote about the film Moonlight but now I am wondering how much of the profit was distributed to the playwright who wrote the original film, versus the actors and production company. The notion of directly buying art from queer people who produce it seems important.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! I had no idea about this museum and I can’t wait to look it up and do my own research about it. Your point about the importance preserving queer history and its connection to Adrienne Rich is resonant and spectacular. Really the theme of preserving queer history can be applied to all the works we have read, as art serves as important historical artifacts for historians. These stories, poems, and plays, tell the history of queer individuals and culture in a way that some historical account written most likely by a cis straight white man could never be able to. I think this link to art and queer history could be an interesting one to study. The arts are filled with queer individuals and I would wager to say that it because art is our form of history as we have been barred from traditional forms of documenting our lives and stories throughout history.

  3. I loved your quote from Study of History as I feel as though that can be used for so many pieces we have read so far because they all have to do with bringing to light histories, issues, or experiences that we otherwise might be unaware of since it is so rarely covered in education or media. This also reminds me of the line “the wreck and not the story of the wreck” in Diving into the Wreck because it shows how important it is to get our information, art, or literature directly from queer people instead of just stories told about them.

  4. Reading that quote from Adrienne Rich once again reminded me of queer epistemology and the disconnect between young queer people and their older generations. I love the way the Leslie-Lohman Museum takes steps to fill this epistemology, especially when we consider the ways the AIDS crisis separated a generation of queer people from each other and how artwork from those artists may help to fill those gaps–maybe not completely, but at least in a way where, like you said, their history can be told.

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