If you’re planning to attend the Gladstone Hotel’s second annual That’s So Gay Pride exhibition in the hopes of seeing black-and-white photos of perfectly waxed male torsos, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
“For me that’s really the worst kind of gay art,” says exhibition curator Sholem Krishtalka. “Somehow we’ve arrived at this visual monoculture, as if gay people are only capable of making art about the people they sleep with. My project here is to try to undo that.”
But the over-represented black-and-white male nude isn’t the only genre of gay art the Montreal-born, Toronto-based artist finds troubling.
“I have just as many problems with what I call “cute fag art,’” he says. “Counterculture boys who get naked and romp around in front of the camera. It’s almost worse because it has pretensions of criticality but is actually resting on very shallow ground.”
Stereotypical gay art is not the only thing conspicuously absent from the exhibition. While Krishtalka has assembled work from an impressive group of internationally recognized creators, almost all of the artists in the show identify as straight, at least when it comes to whom they fuck. But that’s partly the point.
“Although most of them sleep with people of the opposite sex, I would consider all of them to be queer,” he says. “All of them posit a queer mode of living, which is a perfect encapsulation of what I am trying to get at in terms of queer work.”
The show includes the fantastical duo Fastwürms, illustrator Michael Comeau (who lent his distinctive style to Will Munro’s Vazaleen party posters), unpredictable duo Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, multidisciplinary trickster Alison SM Kobayashi, and international art-star Shary Boyle. Also featured is Team Macho, five well-dressed young men who like to cuddle up together and create collective drawings.
“Team Macho feels especially queer to me because the idea of multiple hands all over the work strikes me as vaguely orgiastic,” Krishtalka laughs. “In a creative sense it’s a perverse way to work, which is a great example of how perversity isn’t necessarily a question of who you sleep with. What I’m trying to get at with this show is that queer isn’t about who you do. It’s about how you do.”
Creating a Pride show with mostly straight artists could be considered a controversial move. But Krishtalka is open to being challenged on his vision.
“It was a conscious choice to see what would happen,” he says. “My ongoing project as a curator is to think long and hard about what the word queer means. Back in the ’90s ‘queer’ had a specific meaning and intent. Now it’s become a politically correct way of saying gay or a means of avoiding having to run through the whole LGBT acronym.”
Rather than focus on issues connected to sexuality, That’s So Gay is an examination of queer as a way of being and a mode of creation.
“A lot of the Pride-related exhibitions are an excuse to assemble a bunch of gay artists without any kind of curatorial thought,” Krishtalka says. “I wanted to demonstrate the wide range of things queer artists do. One of the things I hope for this show is that it doesn’t immediately announce itself as a Pride show.”
“I know my thinking about this is not in sync with what a lot of gay people might want to see at a Pride show,” he adds. “But I’m fine with that. I’m not attempting to create an inclusive vision of the queer community in this exhibition. I find that approach so patronizing. I’m arguing that we need to think more critically about what our community is and should be.”