Mainstream society is dominated by heteronormative standards. The prevalent lens people typically view the world through is being challenged more each day as discontent with these standards continues to grow. Pretty Queer features nine artists whose works explore concepts of identity, cultural history as well as politics and subvert expectations of what that all means. Materials, techniques, and familiar subject matters are used to bring to light what has typically been overlooked due to complacency with outdated societal norms and conditioning.
Visibility is an overarching theme throughout the exhibition. Many of the works are layered, holding secret histories and meanings underneath sleek veneers of colorful gradients, kitschy objects, and formal compositions. Robert Fitzgerald’s Boys Wear Blue utilizes found objects to play with the concept of gendering colors. Three exposed drawers contain vignettes that include ceramic figures, golden apples, and mirrors. Fitzgerald’s work manipulates the iconography of objects, presenting multiple meanings and allowing the audience to make connections that may not have been visible before. Circular mirrors bring the viewer into the composition, allowing a moment of reflexivity. The presence of the golden apple can be read as temptation, knowledge, and even discord, depending on the stories and history one is familiar with.
Colton Clifford’s photographic print Untitled renders the audience a voyeur rather than a participant. While Fitzgerald explores ideas of masculinity, Clifford takes on the other end of the standard spectrum: femininity. The scene veers into the uncanny with two feminine figures enacting behavior that is usually associated with the mystical and femme. Tarot reading, a protective flower circle as well as the synchronization in the styling of the figures gives strength to a feeling of ritual and closeness (physical touching, the act of bonding, the practice of the occult) while at the same time keeping the audience at a distance from this intimate scene.
The concept of the body is approached in several ways within the exhibition. Stephen Owczarzak and Troy Hoffman’s work take on the body in an abstract sense. Owczarzak’s Throat 003, a singular ceramic cup, is a vessel rendered useless. Without function to consider, the piece’s relation to the body – particularly the hands, mouth, and throat – become a focal point for the audience to ruminate.
Hoffman’s Untitled, a collage of digitally rendered butthole roses could be considered vulgar. Despite that, there is a poetic gesture in the comparison of a part of the body that carries so much baggage to an icon of romantic love. The work is both subtle and confrontational, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of the comparison allows it to unfold in a devilishly playful way.
All things are visible, though we only see what we chose to focus on. The artists of Pretty Queer highlight concepts deemed universal and show what they look like when presented outside of dominant cultural norms. Being able to confront issues that were once considered off the table by heteronormative standards is refreshing. Unlearning what we’ve been taught to keep hidden and ignore as a society takes time, but this exhibition displays an elegant push-back and challenges the audience to do just that.
Pretty Queer, presented by Contemporary Art Toledo, is on view at River House Arts until August 5th. For more information visit https://www.catoledo.org/pretty-queer and http://www.RiverHouseArts.com/