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NGV explores untold stories of queer art in new exhibition

NGV explores untold stories of queer art in new exhibition


There’s been a lot of NGV news recently and today’s announcement promises to be the first of its kind for not only the gallery but for the art world at large.

Opened 10 March 2022, QUEER: Stories from the NGV Collection spans five gallery spaces and features around 400 hundred artworks traversing timelines and geographies.

Described by the NGV as a “landmark exhibition”, QUEER is the most historically expansive thematic presentation of artworks relating to queer stories ever mounted in an Australian art institution.

Ponch Hawkes, No Title (Two women embracing, ‘Glad to be gay’) 1973, printed 2018 gelatine silver photograph. 20.2 x 30.3. National Gallery of Victoria. Purchased NGV Foundation, 2018. © Ponch Hawkes, 2018.

NGV director Tony Ellwood says the exhibition “shines a light on the NGV Collection to examine and reveal the queer stories that the artworks have to tell.”

“Drawing on a broad selection of beloved and lesser-known artworks, this exhibition will present audiences with the opportunity to interpret queer concepts and stories in surprising and thought-provoking ways.”

Bringing together a breadth of artworks from antiquity to the present day, QUEER will also illuminate ways in which queer lives and stories have been expressed in art through history.

Inspired by contemporary research, interpretation and analysis, the exhibition explores the narratives that may not have been visible in the past due to suppression, prejudice or discrimination.

Tourmaline, Atlantic is a sea of bones, 2017 (still) video with sound, 7 min 28 sec
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased, NGV Supporters of Contemporary Art and NGV Foundation © Tourmaline and Chapter NY, New York.

QUEER is curated across more than ten thematic sections that explore a variety of historical and contemporary subject matter, including activism and protest, love and desire, community and connection, text and performance, discrimination and loss.

Some highlights include Ponch Hawke’s 1973 photograph No title (Two women embracing, ‘Glad to be gay’) that depicts two women courageously celebrating their love during the Gay Liberation Movement in Melbourne, and the recently acquired video work Atlantic is a Sea of Bones by Tourmaline, a transgender woman, artist and activist.

Moving further back through history, Albrecht Dürer’s St Sebastian at the tree from 1501, which depicts the early Christian martyr who since the Renaissance has been often portrayed as a beautiful young man, giving rise to homoerotic interpretations of his story will also be on display.

Albrecht Dürer, St Sebastian at the tree 1501. Engraving 11.5 × 7.1 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1956.

Fascinatingly, by the late 19th century, Sebastian had emerged as a queer icon, beloved by Oscar Wilde who, in French exile after his trial, took the alias ‘Sebastian Melmoth’.

During his speech at the opening of QUEER, Ellwood noted the “multifaceted meaning and usage” of the word ‘queer’.

“This term is a reflection of an expression of sexuality and gender, as a philosophy, as a political movement, as a sensibility, as an attitude that defies fixed definition, as well as the impossibility of a single term to capture the multitude of lived experiences.

“Many of the artworks included in the exhibition are by artists who identify as queer; some are by artists who lived in times when such identification was not possible, and some works are not by a queer artist but have a connection to queer histories.”

QUEER: Stories from the NGV Collection will run from 10 March to 21 August at NGV International. Entry is free.

Lead image by Tim Carrafa.

Earlier this week the NGV also announced the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition covering Pablo Picasso, and the inaugural MECCA x NGV Women in Design Commission.


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