Art & Queer Culture (Phaidon) is a project of two lifetimes – specifically, Catherine Lord and Richard Meyer’s. Their collective research amasses art histories and cultural moments that span one hundred and thirty years. From intimate maps of gay nudist beaches to the giddy heights of Oscar Wilde, this book is unafraid to curate imagery and stories deemed low culture with high culture – the mundane or working class with privileged works.
This second edition of the book offers an even more diverse image of how queer art can manifest. Photograph captions and concise essays spread through the book look towards a holistic view of these histories. Speaking to Stanford News, Meyer sets his intention for the book is part archive of visual protest and part protest itself. He says, “Let’s resist the pull towards normalization” – which is echoed by the artists featured.

Meyer explains queer culture allows the infiltration of high and low art spaces, which is often linked to breaking down class structures. Whilst there remains a contradiction that presenting and consuming art through our money-based system cannot truly be detached from high and low cultural spheres, this rose-tinted book enters the world of art history to militantly write (and fight) from inside the system.
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Crawford Barton, A Castro Street Scene, 1977, black and white photograph. Picture credit: The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society (GLBTHS), San Francisco - From Art @ Queer Culture.
Art & Queer Culture begins in 1885 with the scientific categorisation and birth of the word ‘homosexuality’. Why did you choose a linguistic starting point?
We chose to start the book with art and queer culture of the late 19th century for a number of reasons. It was not only the period where the term ‘homosexuality’ (and ‘heterosexuality’) came into English language usage (first clinically, then more broadly), but also when the photographic camera became increasingly accessible to everyday men and women, including men and women (such as Alice Austen) searching for alternative images of gender and sexuality.
We liked the idea of having Thomas Eakins’ Swimming at or near the beginning of the book since it stands as both a canonical (and widely beloved) painting in American art and a key work, if rarely recognized as such until recently, of male homoeroticism. Finally, the late 19th century was a moment when certain aspects of modern gay and lesbian subcultures began to emerge. This is not to say that the late 19th century invented the possibility of living a queer life, but that several key aspects of sexual anti-normativity (e.g. cross-dressing, public cruising, scandals such as the Oscar Wilde trials) became visible to an unprecedented degree.
What was your main ‘difference, debate and dispute’ writing Art & Queer Culture together?
We discussed and debated a great deal over the issue of how many male vs. female artists would be included in the book. Catherine initially wanted an equal number and I felt that this would present an ahistorical vision of the queer past and fail to address the severe constraints of lesbian invisibility that has shaped that past. Eventually, we compromised and included a greater percentage of women artists than history, narrowly conceived, would dictate since it retained a greater number of men than women. Equally if not more importantly, we addressed the reason for the gendered imbalance of queer art and culture in both feminist and historical terms.
A rose-tinted version of Joe Brainard’s Untitled (Garden) collage (1967) covers the book. You write he crosses boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. Rather than breaking down this division, it seems ‘low’ culture is often just assimilated into ‘high’ culture. What do you think?
Queer art and culture force the boundaries to shift in both directions. High culture (think again of Eakins’ Swimming) is infused with sexual energies historically understood as deviant, diseased, and in this sense, far removed from the realm of aesthetic beauty and transcendence. On the other hand, ‘low’ culture (think of physique photography as reconceived by David Hockney) is introduced, unexpectedly, into the domains of avant-garde art. Even more than this, however, Art & Queer Culture argues for the aesthetic and cultural pleasures (the ‘high’ cultural value, if you will) of objects such as scrapbooks by non-artists (e.g. Tim Wood, Monte Punshon) that staged spectacular alternatives for the representation of same-sex desire.
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Mary Ellen Strom, Nude #5, Eleanor Dubinsky and Melanie Maar, 2005, video projection, 201 × 135 cm. © the artist.
How did you discover Tim Wood’s intimate scrapbook The San Francisco We Know and Love (c.1965), a collection of sexually explicit amateur photography at gay beaches? Any other recent discovery you’re excited about?
Well, the last section of the revised edition of the book is largely focused on trans and non-American-born artists working in the last five years. I asked a group of younger scholars (Jon Davies, Alexis Johnson, and Cyle Metzger) as well as a leading authority on queer performance and Latino culture (David Román) to propose artists for this section and write the entries on the objects we selected together.
I relied on their expertise and experience in the worlds both of contemporary art and alternative genders and sexualities to showcase artists such as Gio Black Peter and Evelyn Taocheng Wang, with whom I was otherwise not familiar. To put it another way, I wanted to make the book into a cross-generational dialogue that could address the ways in which queer culture is expanding across the globe and across multiple forms of difference.
Curated on the same two-page spread are ‘the Factory’ photographer Billy Name’s portrait Andy Warhol under ‘My Hustler’ marquee (1965) and Florida Legislative Committee’s 1964 image of a blowjob through a glory hole in the men’s toilets (and Tim Wood’s scrapbook). What conversation do you want to provoke between these three photographs?
We wanted to convey a dialogue between public and private forms of homoerotic visibility, but also between the expression of queer desire and its criminalization by the State. In the case of the glory hole photograph, the point was to point out the contradiction whereby the police published a photograph of gay sex that would otherwise have been unavailable to viewers. And those viewers included not only law enforcement agents but, when it was reprinted a year later (1965) by the Guild Press, by gay readers.
Does looking at sex artistically queer it?
I guess it depends on who’s doing the looking and what kind of sex they are looking at. The book is less about the experience of sex than its remaking in visual and material terms by over two hundred artists across more than one hundred years.
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Elizabeth Stephens and Annie M. S Sprinkle, The Love Art Laboratory (detail, Blue Wedding to the Sea – an Ecosexual Performance Art Wedding 2009), 2005 – 11, action.
A meme I saw recently read, “sexually I identify as straight, artistically I identify as queer”. This intersection of identities can be problematic since white ‘straight’ men will not shed their privilege but are content to enjoy the ‘fashion’ and popularity of queerness. Your book features artists that don’t define as LGBTQI+. Why do these people have a space in queer art?
We didn’t want to write a book about the sexual identities or individual practices of artists who might today be referred to as LGBTQI+. The book begins well before the identity categories of ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ became concrete after Stonewall. Taking into account the complexity of sexuality (including bisexuality) and the force of the closet, it would have been difficult to accurately name the sexual identity of each artist.
More importantly, though, we were interested in how queer culture became a resource for artists broadly conceived. How an artist such as Picasso, for example, had to confront the force of non-normative femininity (and of modernist genius) when he created Portrait of Gertrude Stein in 1906. We were also interested in presenting the portrait as an encounter between art and queer culture that could not be parsed or understood strictly in terms of Picasso’s heterosexuality. In short, we felt we would lose too much of the story by excluding the impact of queer culture on non-queer artists.
You define ‘queer’ as functioning in opposition to norms and normalisation (introduction; “practices that oppose normative homosexuality”); does working in opposition to the ‘norm’ prevent full queering of our society?
I’m not sure I understand this question. Everyone needs to be seen as some version of ‘normal’ at certain moments in their lives – when, for example, you are trying to adopt a child, join the military (which the Trump administration has outrageously prohibited transgender people from doing), or secure safe housing. I don’t think the goal is a ‘full’ queering of society but rather the full protection of civil rights for those of us who are manifestly different in our gender expression and/or sexual identification. I’d love it if we could be queer all the time but the social and political conditions of modern life do not, as yet, allow this.
Finally, do you have a personal favourite piece in the book?
I can’t name a favourite piece as it would be like choosing a favourite child (in public). This is not to say I don’t have my own ‘queer canon’ of preferred works, but rather that I prefer to keep that list pleasurably private. My hope is that every reader will feel free to embrace, maybe even fall in love with, the works that reach out most meaningfully to them.
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Ashley Hans Scheirl, Golden Shower (L’origine du monde) (detail), 2017, acrylic on canvas and cardboard, 240 × 160 × 192 cm. Picture credit: courtesy and © the artist.
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