Brooklyn Museum’s Stonewall Exhibition Doesn’t Want to Tell the Same Sanitized Story

Brooklyn Museum’s Stonewall Exhibition Doesn’t Want to Tell the Same Sanitized Story

Any thorough discussion about the history of gay liberation in the U.S. eventually finds its way back to the Stonewall Inn — if it doesn’t begin there in the first place. The Greenwich Village bar was one of few places of refuge for LGBTQ people in 1960s New York. And when police officers stormed through it in the early hours of June 28, 1969 to conduct yet another raid, the fiery uprising that followed attracted national attention and became a catalyst for a gay rights movement that stretched far beyond the city’s five boroughs.

To mark the anniversary of the riots, the Brooklyn Museum is running “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall” from May 3 to Dec. 8. The exhibition borrows its title from the rallying cry of Marsha P. Johnson, a trans activist and a vanguard of the movement whose lifetime of work went uncredited for years. According to the curators, the show aims to commemorate the protests while also reasserting Stonewall’s radical narrative, which mainstream retellings have, to some extent, sanitized in the half-century since the fortuitous events took place.

“We’re telling a more inclusive story of the Stonewall Uprising that connects it directly to the remarkably diverse community of LGBTQ+ artists carrying on the legacy of Stonewall now and into the future,” said the Brooklyn Museum’s director, Anne Pasternak, who also serves on ALL ARTS’ editorial advisory board.

Tuesday Smillie’s “S.T.A.R.,” 2012. Watercolor, Courtesy of the artist. © Tuesday Smillie

It’s also an expansive undertaking that will touch every corner of the museum, with employees from various departments — including curators from the Sackler Center for Feminist Art, as well as staff from the Public Programs and Teen Programs departments — coming together to work on the project.

More than 20 LGBTQ+ artists, such as Felipe Baeza, Morgan Bassichis, Constantina Zavitsanos, Tourmaline and Tuesday Smillie, will show new and existing art, some of which was commissioned by the museum for the Stonewall anniversary. The work will be shown in four categories: Revolt, Heritage, Desire and Care Networks.

“In the Revolt section, drawings and films trace the lives and honor the actions of those who organized for change before and after Stonewall, while contemporary protest signs transform into artworks that uplift and riff on activist legacies. Figures like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie and Marlon Riggs are commemorated in the Heritage section, which also focuses on how gentrification and violence continue to affect queer communities today,” the group curators said. “The artworks in Desire explore attraction and intimacy, while moving into a space of imagining and organizing toward more equitable futures and new ways of living.”

They continued: “In Care Networks, artists visualize their networks of affinity, support, friendship and nightlife that provide emotional sustenance as well as spaces for experimentation and liberation.”

To accompany the artwork on display, the museum will roll out a resource room for further learning about LGBTQ+ history, educational programming and more. For more information about the exhibition, check out the Brooklyn Museum’s website.

Top Image: Rindon Johnson's single-channel video "It is April", 2017, featuring Milo McBride. Courtesy of the artist. © Rindon Johnson