Art museums serve as collections of a communal creative history. They offer a point of curation to highlight parts of our creation process, which also reflect our social positions and personal experience. Yet these institutions have historically been fairly exclusive in the art that is deemed relevant or appropriate for any defined collection. In an effort to create a more inclusive curation of work in the art world, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art (LLMA) was created.
LLMA is the only dedicated LGBTQ+ art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve LGBTQ+ art and foster the artists who create it. The museum provides a platform for artistic exploration through multi-faceted queer perspectives.
Madre spoke with Alyssa Nitchun, the Executive Director of LLMA, about the museum and a new print sale project they are supporting, in partnership with TRNK NYC, to raise funds for future projects.
How did LLMA come to be?
The Museum was created by our founders to preserve LGBTQ+ identity, our roots trace back more than 50 years to 1969, just weeks before the Stonewall uprising. Since then, we have served as a cultural hub; a home for queer art, artists, scholars, activists and allies; and a catalyst for discourse on art and queerness. We’ve evolved with the needs of our community, starting with a private collection, to a small arts foundation that defended gay artists through the AIDS crisis, and eventually into the Museum LLMA is today, located in our landmark SoHo location.
Why is a space like LLMA important?
The Museum is a critical space for the queer community and all those who care about learning more and supporting LGBTQ+ folks in our lives. We embrace the power of the arts to inspire, explore, and foster understanding of the rich diversity of LGBTQ+ experiences. There are very few spaces available for people to come together and share their cultures. And as we’ve learned during this pandemic, spaces where we gather and engage with one another are invaluable to all.
The Museum holds over 30,000 objects in its collection, spanning more than three centuries of queer art, and our library holds one of the largest collections of volumes on LGBTQ+ art in the country. Additionally, we hold files on the work of more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ artists. There is quite literally no comparable collection in size, and we still continue to grow and evolve in the scholarship and works we acquire to grow our representation to truly make visible our community.
What work shown at LLMA stands out to you, or had a strong impact on you?
I’m fortunate to have begun my tenure at the Museum with the extraordinary exhibition Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell. Laura used her nude body as an overt and courageous rebellion against the colonization of Latinx identities — racial, gendered, cultural and sexual. Her practice intuitively evolved over time as she struggled to negotiate and navigate her ethnicity and sexuality, her challenges with depression and auditory dyslexia, and the acceptance of her large body. This exhibition tells the story of the artist who for most of her life struggled to communicate with words, yet ironically emerged as a powerful voice for numerous and diverse marginalized groups.
Beyond displaying artwork, LLMA does a lot of community support and education, what is the role these programs serve?
We encourage interactions that are intergenerational, all-ability, experientially, racially, and ethnically diverse. Our programming addresses LGBTQ+ issues using an intersectional approach to understand and incorporate social, historical and policy themes addressing issues of gender, sexual identity/expression, ability, diversity, race and ethnicity. LLMA’s educational programming targets the needs of young, LGBTQ+ people, who unfortunately are at a greater risk of experiencing mental illness due to stigmatic discrimination, sexual harassment, social rejection, family disapproval, and violence. We also engage educators, adults, and allies to ensure they also have the resources to support queer youth in learning about their communities and culture.
Overall, we are moving from a principally object-based focus to a public institution that uses all of its resources to create connections and celebrate queer community and heritage. LLMA’s programming facilitates healthy identity development; our art-centered approach helps youth understand and imagine a future beyond the pandemic’s precariousness.
What are you excited about with LLMA’s future programming?
The Museum reopened in February after eleven months of temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then we have been at 25% capacity, while still selling-out with our timed tickets most days. Just recently we were allowed to expand that to full capacity. This is a huge opportunity for us to engage folks in our space once again, and it feels amazing. I’m excited to gather in our space and contribute to rebuilding social ties and interactions in person again. The potential for this to impact our communities well-being and recovery is profound.
Can you tell me about the fundraiser you are hosting with the print sale?
CHOSEN is an exhibition we created in collaboration with TRNK. It features eight photographers who celebrate queer kinship. The exhibition depicts moments of everyday love and intimacy shared within chosen families. Amid the social and systemic barriers and constrictions of cis-heteronormativity, these images remind us that our beauty, strength, and trust is a force for remaking the world.
“Chosen” includes artist:
Mengwen Cao (@mengwencao)
Clifford Prince King (@cliffordprinceking)
Myles Loftin (@mylesloftin)
Groana Melendez (@groana)
Alexis Ruiseco-Lombera (@guajire)
Coyote Park (@nativeboytoy)
and Ka-Man Tse.
The photographs prints included will be available to purchase from a starting price of $150 via TRNK, with 25% of proceeds going to the Museum, and another quarter of the sales being shared with the artists presented.