Gay Pride -- De-Sexed and De-Politicized

A library exhibit offers some good art but forgets about the long road traveled

I feel a twinge of guilt at ignoring most of the work here by lesbian artists, but much of it is either blandly decorative or irrelevant in terms of gay content or treatment. Two untitled black-and-white canvases by Xiomara D. Cotton have a strange grandeur, although I'm not quite sure what they're doing in this show. On the other hand, a watercolor called Three of Spades, by an artist identified simply as Dyan, juxtaposes a pair of fish with a single fish to make a playful comment on relationships. And Mary Ellen Britton's understated color photos take on layers of meaning only when you consider their titles: Behind Closed Doors, Dirty Laundry, and Lingering Reminders of the Third Reich.

The show's strongest pieces, which work both as fine art and as "gay" art, are within a few feet of one another at the far end of the gallery, near the big plate-glass windows. Barry Sparkman's two medium-size canvases, Impasse and Tangent, could hold their own in any exhibition of latter-day abstract expressionism, but they're also swirling evocations of the turbulence expressed in the artist's posted statement: "Growing up gay in the rural South, I did my best to blend in. Because of the intolerance of that culture, I felt that I had no choice but to hide my sexuality. I calculated everything that I said and tried to affect socially acceptable mannerisms. Try as I might, it never worked."

To the left are Matthew Cottrell's cheekily humorous photographs, which work best when considered as one multipart piece. The Bathroom Butt Series is a trio of color closeups of buttocks embellished with a toothbrush, toothpaste tube, and dental floss, while the Kitchen Butt Series below consists of three digitally manipulated black-and-white photos of butts decorated with silverware. And below the two triptychs is the slightly larger Look, Listen, Feel, a glass-mounted reverse-negative print of a butt adorned with a dog tag featuring the red AIDS ribbon.

Yoculan with Identity: pharmacological art
Yoculan with Identity: pharmacological art

Details

On display through June 30. Call 954-357-7464.
Broward County Main Library, Sixth Floor, Gallery Six, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale

My choice for best of show would be curator Yoculan's Identity, a large, ambitious mixed-media piece opposite the "butt series." From a distance, it looks like one of those Chuck Close pieces that use tiny daubs of pigment to cumulatively add up to a portrait. In this case, however, the components are 598 small round containers filled with pills of various colors that make up the portrait.

The accompanying text is illuminating: "We take pills illegally to lose our identity. We take pills legally to maintain our identity. We even feed pills to children to control their identity. Discrimination is part of our identity." The unexpressed subtext, of course, is that HIV-positive people also depend upon pills to stay alive. Identity works on several levels simultaneously; the uneven "United and Proud" could use more art like it.

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