Who’s Afraid Of Stardust? Positions of Contemporary Queer Art
October 21, 2023 - February 11, 2024
The Kunsthaus and Kunsthalle Nürnberg are collaborating to present the international group exhibition Who’s Afraid of Stardust? Positions of Contemporary Queer Art. The exhibition features works by 30 artists who address aspects of queer life and so make substantial contributions to the current debate on diversity with their individual perspectives on societal power structures.
David Bowie’s legendary art-figure Ziggy Stardust is the inspiration behind the exhibition title Who's Afraid of Stardust? Short flaming red hair, experimental make-up, high heels and sexually charged stage shows: In the alien Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie created a world-famous genderfluid figure in 1972, playing with gender roles and sexual identity and thus throwing into question the two-gender, heteronormative social order. The exhibition title, therefore, also refers to the dualism of socio-political struggle and pop and glamour that is central to the queer community.
In the English-speaking world, the term queer was long regarded as pejorative, referring to people whose non-heteronormative gender identity and/or sexual orientation did not correspond to the prevailing social norms. However, since the 1990s, the word has undergone a process of appropriation and reinterpretation by the community. Today, both as a positive self-designation and in the context of academic and political activism, “queer” stands confidently for all those who do not feel that they belong to the heteronormative majority society.
Queer art and artists have existed ever since human beings began to express themselves artistically. Queer theory and art history are relatively new disciplines. As with feminist art history, it was in the 1970s and 1980s that scholars began to re-examine the classical canon of art. Publications on artists such as Donatello, Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo began to take their homosexuality into account when analysing their works.
In the visual arts, a parallel change in perspective occurred: At that time, Andy Warhol was celebrating drag queens like Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn or Edie Sedgwick as muses and brought them in front of the camera. In the 1980s, Keith Haring used his iconic art again and again in the fight against HIV, and Peter Hujar also photographed people whose life and identities were being rejected and whose suffering was ignored. After an emancipatory awakening of the queer community in the 1970s, the spread of the virus triggered an incomprehensible crisis. In public perception, the infectious disease was closely linked to male homosexuality. The debate on HIV and AIDS intensified and generated a queer-hostile attitude – not only in the eyes of the churches and conservatives, HIV was seen as divine punishment.
Queer contemporary art is receiving international attention today, also involving a newfound visibility of gender-nonconforming artists and content. The exhibition Who’s Afraid Of Stardust? Positions of Contemporary Queer Art shows paintings, drawings, photographs, video works, sculptures, performances, and light and sound installations by 30 artists. The identities, ways of life and modes of expression that come together on the LGBTIQA* scene are heterogeneous. There is similar variation, therefore, among these artistic statements, which revolve around life and desire beyond heteronormativity, play with gender roles and boundaries, and call for a review of restrictive notions of gender and identity.