By: Khaalid Naik
The art that was once unsavory for being too ‘prudish’ is now being celebrated because of two men, Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman. Who not only gave recognition to homoerotic art but also successfully established the first-ever gay art museum. ‘The Leslie-Lohman museum of gay and lesbian art’ is located at one of the finest places in New York City, SOHO, Manhattan.
Leslie and Lohman were life partners who gathered gay art for several years and then showcased it for the first time ever in 1969 in their loft at Prince Street. The overwhelming response from the audience towards this ‘unambiguously gay’ art propelled them to open a commercial art gallery in the 1980s in SOHO. But during the early 1980s, they had to focus on safeguarding the art instead of fostering it in the advent of the AIDS pandemic which was thrashing the gay art community.
As the masses were still lacking awareness about the differing sexualities, they were neither acknowledging the gay art nor the sexuality of the artists. Leslie & Lohman now needed an oasis for this art which then drove the couple to establish a non-profit foundation to support gay art in 1987. In 2011, this NGO was awarded the status of ‘official museum’ by the New York State Board of Regents making it the first accredited gay art museum in the world.
The museum consists of paintings, photographs, drawings, and sculptures. It features the work of 1,900+ artists and has an active archive of 24,000 art pieces. Over the years the museum had strictly adhered to its theme and had helped people explore their sexualities, feel heard and valued, and also gave the queer community a sense of inclusiveness.
The Leslie-Lohman art museum is a story of romance that preserved 50 years of LGBTQ art, which would have otherwise vanished!