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Contemporary Art

"Queer Abstraction" Exhibition, Commended for the Sotheby's Prize 2018, Breaks New Ground in Iowa

By Sotheby's
Queer Abstraction , a cutting-edge exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center , was recognized by the Sotheby’s Prize 2018 for its power to shift the narrative of how we view abstraction in relation to gender and sexual identity. The exhibition will run from 1 June through 8 September, after which it will travel to the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas.

I t’s the start of Pride month in the US, a time to pay tribute to the queer voices and activists who fought for generations to secure equal rights for millions of LGBTQ+ Americans. But Pride is also a month to celebrate progress, honor inclusivity, and consider the work that still remains to build a more welcome and open society for all people.

To mark the occasion, the Des Moines Art Center opens Queer Abstraction, the first exhibition in the institution’s 70-year history to focus exclusively on queer sexuality and gender identity. In keeping with its name, the exhibition looks to the language of abstraction, which for over a century has offered an outlet for LGBTQ+ artists to explore and articulate their diverse experiences. The crimilization of homosexuality, the Civil Rights Movement, the AIDS crisis, daily abuse and marginalization – queer artists faced these struggles by turning to abstraction, a mode of expression that asks its viewer to consider reality in a new light. From this, the moniker “Queer Abstraction” was born; and in the current era of uncertainty, the aesthetic is taking on new layers of relevancy.

In an era of uncertainty, queer artists embrace abstraction as a way to communicate their experiences in a world where their sexuality and gender identify are often not authorized or accepted.

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Prem Sahib, Outer Wear, 2015. Wood, ceramic tiles, grout. 88 x 94 x 11 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Southard Reid, London

For this, the Sotheby’s Prize proudly honors Queer Abstraction with a commendation, recognizing curatorial excellence for exhibitions that explore overlooked areas of art history.

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Carrie Moyer, Jolly Hydra: Unexplainably Juicy, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 78 inches. Colleciton of Mr. and Mrs. Sid and Shirley Singer, NY. Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, NY.

Jeff Fleming, Director of the Des Moines Art Center, notes that the award underscores the museum’s ongoing effort to advance diverse artistic viewpoints:

“As the Des Moines Art Center strives to become more inclusive and welcoming to diverse audiences, we are committed to organizing challenging and timely exhibitions to promote empathy and gain an understanding of each other through the art of our time. The Sotheby’s Prize jury’s recognition of the exhibition supports these efforts and helps us to recognise the queer experience as a significant influence on modern and contemporary art.”
Jeff Fleming, Director of the Des Moines Art Center
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Edie Fake, The Keep, 2018. Gouache and ink on panel, 28 x 28 inches. Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from the Keith W. Shaver Trust, 2018. Image Courtesy of the artist and Western Exhibitions, Chicago. James Prinz Photography

Queer Abstraction features notable works by renowned artists Mark Bradford, Edie Fake, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Harmony Hammond, John Paul Morabito, Math Bass, Elijah Burgher, and Carrie Moyer, among others. Des Moines Art Center Assistant Curator Jared Ledesma curated the exhibition, which runs from 1 June through 8 September. In November, Queer Abstraction will travel to the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas, where it will be on display from 21 November 2019 until 8 March, 2020.

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