Edward Burra, Soldiers at Rye, 1941, Tate, © Tate
Gay art’s all the rage at the major museums. First there was Hide/Seek at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 2010, then Masculin / Masculin at the Musée d’Orsay in 2013, and now Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain. A survey show covering more than a century of queer life, it’s as much history as art, and there are odd little things, like the calling card on which Bosie’s nasty dad called Wilde a “sodomite,” that are surely more the province of an archive than a gallery. But judging from the distant view afforded by the internet, there are still a lot of images that stand on their own, without much need of historical explanation. It’s a big show – eight rooms – and were I in a hurry, I think I’d skip the pre-Raphaelites – so sad and damp – and the Wilde memorabilia, maybe take a quick peak at the Bloomsburies (great portrait of Vita Sackville-West by William Strang) and then head straight to the mid-20th century. I’ve seen enough Bacon and Hockney to know that I like them both and I don’t need that view reinforced here. But I’m curious about John Craxton and Edward Burra, both of whom are new to me. Burra’s bird-mouthed Soldiers at Rye reminds me of Gore Vidal at his best – that same savage mix of sex and politics. With their sharp beaks and massive butts, Burra’s soldiers look like they could eat you alive.
Five Toronto artists explore glamour as a tool for resistance in a new art show, Tough As Nails: Transgressive Queer Glamour. Work by Maddie Alexander, Kim Ninkuru, Beck Gilmer Osborne, Danny Welsh and Shellie Zhang. April 5 to 23, 2016, YTB Gallery, 563 Dundas St E., Suite 201, Toronto.
Lots of queer content at this year’s Contact photography festival, though none of it is particularly exciting. Zanele Muholi’s South African lesbians stare out at the camera without managing to say much of anything except “we’re here.” Archiving Public Sex at the University of Toronto Art Centre is more archival exhibit than art show. There are some great pictures of Glad Day Bookstore in the 1970s and 1980s, and a case full of once prohibited books, but no sense of why this matters anywhere beyond the textbooks. There’s too much history and not enough art. Steven Beckly’s show at Toronto Image Works has the opposite problem. Beckly has taken historical photographs of two men or two women who for whatever reason were standing/sitting rather too close together and re-printed them in the company of other “same-sex couples” so that the viewer is bound to think, “Mm, maybe.” Should you be gifted with a narrative impulse I’m sure you could make up some fun stories about most of these “couples,” but that’s all you’re left with in the end – a thin and, in most cases, rather improbable fiction. Most of these couples probably weren’t anything of the kind, but clarity is lacking. Anything that might shed light on the cultural or historical context in which they expressed their affection is missing. Too bad because some of the people on the walls obviously had some good stories to tell.