The Queer Coffee Table: 10 L.G.B.T.Q. Books to Usher In World Pride

It’s a rare and refreshing moment for the queer coffee table book collector (your reporter included): As New York City prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion by hosting World Pride this June, an array of titles celebrating the L.G.B.T.Q. community’s history, art and culture are suddenly on offer. The lineup is impressive, both in its scale — there are more books than the 10 fit to print here — and in its sweep, comprising histories of rights, artworks and lovers gained and lost to time.

“We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation” (Ten Speed Press, $40), the tallest of the titles, ironically began as a pocket-sized project: the Instagram account @lgbt_history. Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown, the creators of the 400,000-strong account and the book’s co-authors, were compelled to immerse themselves and their readership in a legacy that eludes many of today’s Millennials and Generation Z-ers. In print, this translates to an impassioned photographic tour of an ever-changing, increasingly vocal and insistently resilient L.G.B.T.Q. community and culture, from 19th-century ideology to contemporary conversations around intersectionality.

Image
From “We Are Everywhere”: The L.G.B.T.Q. rights activist Marsha P. Johnson (center) and a friend on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.CreditBiscayne/Kim Peterson

Those still grappling with terminology (including the L.G.B.T.Q. community’s reclaiming of the former slur “queer” itself) would benefit from flipping through the diminutive “The Queeriodic Table: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Culture” (Summersdale, $13.99). The author Harriet Dyer goes far beyond the abbreviation to explore key vocabulary, figures, historical markers and artistic works, all packaged in cheery graphics and clear, conversational language. “Oh, labels. We humans use them to make things easier and they just don’t always work that well,” Dyer writes in the book’s introduction, a fitting invitation to unpack and question them.

“Pride: Fifty Years of Parades and Protests From the Photo Archives of The New York Times” (Abrams Image, $24.99) offers a self-reflexive review of the ways in which this newspaper has reported on the L.G.B.T.Q. community over the past half-century. In his introduction, The Times’s Los Angeles bureau chief, Adam Nagourney, takes the paper to task for its shortcomings in regards to its coverage of Stonewall and AIDS, among other subjects. The book reproduces a February 28, 1971 article, “More Homosexuals Aided to Become Heterosexual,” published two years before the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality was not, in fact, a mental illness. The chronological interplay of published stories and more than 350 photographs presents a timeline of the relentless march — and marches — of recent history, as filtered through the media’s perspectives and prejudices.

From “Pride,” Boy Scouts march down New York’s Fifth Avenue during the first gay pride parade following the lifting of the organization’s ban on gay instructors.CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times

“Pride: Photographs After Stonewall” (OR Books, paper, $30) offers a more intimate account of the events of June 28, 1969, and the decades hence, via the lens of The Village Voice’s first picture editor and staff photographer, Fred W. McDarrah. The book is a reissue of a 1994 publication, now out of print, initially published in time for Stonewall’s 25th anniversary, but the black-and-white images somehow feel more resonant today than ever before. Despite the visual ephemera on display in recent retrospectives and publications, McDarrah was one of the only photographers to capture the immediate aftermath of that now legendary weekend, from the smashed jukeboxes and graffiti-scrawled windows to the slightly stunned and celebratory crowd outside of Greenwich Village’s 53 Christopher Street. McDarrah continued to document New York’s often-overlooked L.G.B.T.Q. community until the 1990s, and his full body of work is interspersed throughout the book with poignant quotes from the subjects pictured.

From “Pride”: The Stonewall uprising, June 1969.CreditFred W. McDarrah

Similarly, “Love and Resistance: Out of the Closet Into the Stonewall Era” (W. W. Norton & Company, $24.95) frames the turbulent and triumphant 1960s and ’70s from the distinctive vantage points of the photographers Kay Tobin Lahusen and Diana Davies. The album is a distillation of an exhibition at the New York Public Library, running through July 13, here culled into four themes by the editor and curator Jason Baumann. One of them, “Visibility,” comprises a collection of quiet portraits of Lahusen and Davies’s community of activists, such as the tireless, seemingly ubiquitous Marsha P. Johnson.

From “Love and Resistance”: The Gay Liberation Front marches on Times Square in 1970.CreditDiana Davies

Sometimes, a rebellion begins with a rebrand. In “Queer X Design” (Black Dog & Leventhal, $24.99), the professor Andy Campbell weaves a telling visual tapestry of an emerging L.G.B.T.Q. language and identity. The spare ink illustrations gracing the seminal lesbian publication “The Ladder,” first published in 1956, stand out among the coded visuals of the “pre-liberation” era, while Gilbert Baker’s rainbow flag, hand-sewn for San Francisco’s 1978 Gay Freedom Day celebration, epitomizes the boldness of post-Stonewall visibility. California’s blue and white all-gender bathroom signage from 2017 speaks to this generation’s fight for the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming members of the community.

Gilbert Baker’s hand-dyed, hand-sewn flag for the Gay Freedom Day celebration in San Francisco, 1978.CreditGilbert Baker

First published in 2013, “Art & Queer Culture,” by the professors Catherine Lord and Richard Meyer (Phaidon, paper, $39.95), aimed to codify, dissect and celebrate an L.G.B.T.Q. fine art canon. There’s much to absorb in this expanded reissue — over 130 years’ worth — and much of it benefits from a close read of the (very) fine print, owing to its furtive, discrete or symbolic nature. Thus does the sexually ambiguous Thomas Eakins’s 1883-85 scandal-steeped “Swimming” open the first portion, its sensuous portrayal of nude male bodies a prelude to the increasingly bold, complex and diverse queer work that follows.

Thomas Eakins’s “Swimming.”CreditThomas Eakins/Amon Carter Museum of Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Per its title, the scope of “Art After Stonewall, 1969-1989” (Rizzoli Electa, $60) is relegated to the two seismic decades following the uprising. This particular catalog coincides with an exhibit organized by Ohio’s Columbus Museum of Art, split into two segments for its opening at New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art and New York University’s Grey Art Gallery (through July). Helmed by the artist and curator Jonathan Weinberg, the book and exhibition situate the work within seven themes. Among them: “Coming Out” (Peter Hujar’s triumphant photograph for a Gay Liberation Front poster in 1970) and “AIDS and Activism” (Lola Flash’s haunting image “AIDS Quilt,” 1987).

From “Art After Stonewall”: A crack-and-peel sticker by Adam Rolston, 1989.CreditAdam Rolston

Weinberg has also authored another title, the result of 16 years of research: “Pier Groups: Art and Sex Along the New York Waterfront” (Penn State University Press, $34.95). This far more personal and academic tome focuses on the 1970s, when Weinberg himself used to trawl Manhattan’s West Side piers for both sexual and artistic gratification. The rambling, blighted structures that once represented the city’s reputation as a booming seaport were newly rife for site-specific artwork and documentation by the likes of Gordon Matta-Clark, whose 1975 “Days End” — five gaping incisions into the now-destroyed Pier 52 — presided over the comings and goings of gay men looking for connection and satisfaction. It’s an alluring homage to a time, a community and a landscape that have long since vanished.

From “Pier Groups”: A site known as “Newspaper Wall,” on West Street in New York City, 1975.CreditShelly Seccombe

Likewise, “Tom Bianchi: 63 E 9th Street” (Damiani, distributed by ARTBOOK | D.A.P., $55) presents a compelling, charged portrait of gay men in New York, depicted in their sexual prime in the golden years before the major devastation of AIDS. “In the early days of the queer revolution, we seemed inevitably heading to a more playful and loving way of being,” Bianchi writes in the book’s introduction, and that spirit is reflected in the lush, to-scale, and unapologetically erotic Polaroids of his paramours, his apartment and the city beyond it all.

From “Tom Bianchi”: a polaroid taken between 1975 and 1983.CreditTom Bianchi
Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply