Queer artists of color dominate 2021’s must-see LGBTQ art shows

News

As the world’s top art museums strive — like everyone — to return to some sense of normalcy after a year of pandemic-induced chaos, an exciting new landscape of LGBTQ-themed art shows has begun to unfold for 2021, one in which queer artists of color are perhaps better represented than they’ve ever been before.

From emerging talents like Naima Green, Salman Toor and Shikeith to more established artists like Zanele Muholi, Julie Mehretu and Laura Aguilar, Black and brown voices are headlining a bold lineup of global exhibitions by queer artists in the coming months.

Here are the top current and imminent shows that you should safely do your best to see — noting of course that museums are still subject to ever-shifting local lockdown restrictions. Temporary closings are noted below and accurate as of press time, but they are dependent on shifting pandemic winds.

Anastacia-Reneé: ‘(Don’t Be Absurd) Alice in Parts’
Frye Art Museum, Seattle
Former Seattle Civic Poet and “queer super-shero of color” Anastacia-Reneé presents a new show in the voice of her longtime character Alice Metropolis, as she reflects on and rages against gentrification and colonization, both literal and figurative. The immersive installation is a walk through Alice’s home, charting the ways she strives for wholeness against oppression, and includes a spiritual sanctuary dedicated to writer Audre Lorde. Rescheduled from last year, the exhibition opened virtually Jan. 30. (Through April 25; museum reopens Feb. 11)

Naima Green: ‘Brief & Drenching’
Fotografiska, New York
Brooklyn-based artist Naima Green’s first solo museum exhibition — which also honors Audre Lorde, taking its title from a line in the author’s “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name”— incorporates Green’s “Pur-suit” portraiture project of queer women, trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people. Included, too, is a re-creation of her own apartment, which serves as the theater for her jarringly intimate short film, “The Intimacy of Before.” Also on display at Fotografiska through Feb. 28 is “Infamous,” the latest show from longtime gay provocateur Andres Serrano, who uses more than 30 photographs of racist American artifacts to hold a mirror to the country’s dark recent past. (Through April 18)

Salman Toor: ‘How Will I Know’
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Postponed by the pandemic from its originally scheduled Whitney run last year, Salman Toor’s gorgeous show — also his first solo museum exhibition — explores the concept of community within the context of a queer, diasporic identity. Pakistan-born and New York City-based, Toor offers a stylized glimpse into the imagined lives of young, queer brown men residing between two worlds. (Through April 4)

‘This Longing Vessel: Studio Museum Artists in Residence’
MoMA PS1, New York
This collaborative presentation of the Studio Museum in Harlem and MoMA PS1 in Queens showcases the radically intimate work of emerging creators E. Jane, Naudline Pierre and Elliot Reed, who here use new media, performance and painting to explore the intersection between queerness and Blackness. (Through March 14)

Shikeith: ‘Feeling the Spirit in the Dark’
Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh
Through a blend of sculpture, photography, film and audio, Pittsburgh-based conceptual artist Shikeith’s four Mattress Factory installations trace the history of Black people in sound and movement and explore the narrative of slavery’s afterlife — and what haunts Black queer, male-embodied people — in modern society. (Through March 31; museum reopens Feb. 10)

Zanele Muholi
Tate Modern, London
This first major British survey of the phenomenal work of South African visual activist Zanele Muholi includes more than 260 photographs spanning the breadth of their career. Since the early 2000s, Muholi has documented and celebrated the lives of South Africa’s Black LGBTQ people, who, despite promises of equality, remain the target of violence and prejudice. (Through May 31; museum currently closed until further notice)

John Edmonds: ‘A Sidelong Glance’
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Winner of the first UOVO Prize as an exceptional emerging Brooklyn artist, photographer John Edmonds was invited to engage directly with the Brooklyn Museum’s Arts of Africa collection, particularly with objects donated by the estate of the late African American novelist Ralph Ellison. The resulting show, which includes portraits and still lifes featuring cameos by members of Edmonds’ New York creative community, explores the intersections of representation, modernity and identity in the African diaspora. (Through Aug. 8)

‘Only Tony’: Portraits by Gilbert Lewis
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Philadelphia artist Gilbert Lewis is a longstanding fixture of the city’s art community, but his sensitive portraiture work has thus far been underexposed at local museums, despite its importance in the national lexicon of gay male art. This show and its approximately 25 pieces focus on one model, Tony, whom Lewis painted numerous times in the 1980s. (Through Sept. 5)

‘Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell’
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, New York
This first comprehensive retrospective of the work of Southern California photographer Laura Aguilar features more than 70 works covering three decades, incorporating candid portrayals of Aguilar herself, her friends and family and various LGBTQ and Latinx communities. Included is Aguilar’s powerful and best-known piece, 1990’s “Three Eagles Flying,” which set the stage for future work wherein she rebelled with her nude body against the racial, gendered, cultural and sexual colonization of Latinx identities. (Through May 9)

Toyin Ojih Odutola: ‘A Countervailing Theory’
Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg, Denmark
In her first exhibition in Scandinavia, Nigerian-born and New York-based artist Toyin Ojih Odutola will present around 40 brand-new works created specifically for this show. Each piece is an episode within the narrative of a mythical ancient Nigerian civilization dominated by female rulers, challenging preconceived notions of history, culture, gender, sexuality and race. (March 2-May 30)

Christina Quarles
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
The work of Los Angeles-based artist Christina Quarles explores the universal experience of existing within a body and the ways race, gender and sexuality intersect to form our complex identities. This largest-ever presentation of her work will bring together a selection of pieces made over the last three years, as well as a new large-scale installation exploring illusions and histories of painting. (March 13-Aug. 29)

David Hockney: ‘The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020’
Royal Academy of Arts, London
A decade after he first began producing art on his iPad in 2010, David Hockney used the beginning of the pandemic last spring to create a bounty of work focusing on the regenerative beauty of the season, as seen around his home in Normandy. This Royal Academy show assembles 116 of those pieces, showcasing the wonder and renewal of the natural world. (March 27-Aug. 22)

Julie Mehretu
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Following its debut at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, this comprehensive mid-career retrospective of Ethiopian-born queer artist Julie Mehretu comes to New York’s Whitney in March. The show covers the first two decades of Mehretu’s work, which uses large and often multi-layered abstract landscapes to examine themes like colonialism, capitalism, geopolitics, war, diaspora and displacement. (March 25-Aug. 8)

‘Reigning Queens: The Lost Photos of Roz Joseph’
‘Angela Davis: OUTspoken’
GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco
California’s museums may be largely closed right now due to pandemic restrictions, but in a pair of recently launched online exhibitions, San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society presents virtual versions of two wonderful previously mounted physical shows. In the first, photographs by Roz Joseph are assembled to document San Francisco’s drag culture in the mid-1970s. In the second, rare posters and ephemera from the Lisbet Tellefsen Collection are brought together to showcase the life of queer Black freedom fighter Angela Davis. (Virtual, ongoing)