Are the Arts Minimalising Queer Representation?

Despite queer people often being associated with creativity, Minimalism is an exclusionary world for young gender, romantic and sexually diverse people in the age of austerity.

There’s a certain whimsical idea that queer people do better in the creative world, but the arts have often made it a difficult place to be queer and successful. Making sure queer creativity isn’t lost, Oliver Doe is putting together events showcasing queer artists who specialise in Minimalism. His actions are vital; austerity has bitten the art world. In 2016, Labour claimed the Tories had cut local arts funding by £165 million which amounted to a spending reduction of 27% since 2010.

“I don’t think the art world is totally impenetrable for young queer people,” says Doe, “but it has certainly become more and more difficult. Studio and small gallery costs are on the rise as space becomes a premium, and the cost of materials/objects has risen rapidly in the wake of austerity and Brexit.

“Many of the works included in You’re Reading Into It [Doe’s Newcastle event], including my own, use cheap, domestic materials rather than milled steel, oil paint or stone, so that the costs of making are lower.”

Oil paints alone can cost over £10 a time. When artists are painting day in and day out, the expenditure is unworkable, but Doe tries to find some positivity despite the financial burden artists face. Doe cites the award winning Tangerine, a film focused upon transgender sex workers which was made on an iPhone and with only apps to edit, as a product that shows a non-existent budget can work. The arts still depend upon vision.

“There is a particular vein running through history if we look at the work of queer artists making work about queer issues: often work is made on a shoestring budget with everyday materials, or photographs, or work becomes performative, with less of a reliance on physical objects or space. Queer communities have brilliant histories of making incredible things from next to nothing, and that has continued to feed through to the present.

“Queer communities have brilliant histories of making incredible things from next to nothing”

“Every now and then I see trickles of funding specific to LGBTQ+ arts projects, which is great, but we really need more for queer artists to be able to fully realise their ideas and make a dent in the incredibly dense art world. This year, being the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, has seen a couple of public bodies funding LGBTQ-related projects [The Arts Council funded You’re Reading Into It]. My only hope is that mainstream funding continues after 2017, and starts to move into funding smaller, artist-led projects more often, as well as further scholarships and opportunities aimed particularly at LGBTQ+ emerging artists. That way, we will see further dialogue about queerness in contemporary art, which would hopefully feed into wider discussions.”

It was the lack of opportunities for graduates that spurred Doe into setting up an event for artists to be able to display their work to the public. Doe believes queer artists in particular are missing out on chances to capture an audience and his passion for Minimalism has fuelled his drive to see better representation.

“I love Minimalism as an aesthetic movement, but found some of the context of the work problematic, such as how aggressively macho so much of it was. You only have to look at the work of Tony Smith, Donald Judd or John McCracken to see how impenetrable, dense and dominating it is, before even delving into the misinformed politics of certain artists from that period. I wanted to turn that on its head by seeing how people were bringing in LGBTQ+ and feminist concerns, softening those hard edges and making those solid planes more transparent. It makes sense to me that Minimalism, as an artistic mode, can be used to represent queer concerns given the often reductive nature of society’s view on LGBTQ+ and feminist issues. I’m hoping that this show and the artists involved can usurp that reductive tendency and challenge perceptions of sexuality and gender in contemporary art, as well as within Minimalism.”

““I love Minimalism as an aesthetic movement, but found some of the context of the work problematic, such as how aggressively macho so much of it was.”

A queer revolution in Minimalism may be some distance away, but the work of Doe and other queer artists is ensuring that some of the most marginalised people in our society aren’t lost in the arts. The progressive credibility of a society is often judged by its creative products and the artists of its time. The Beats helped bring the sense of freedom to the 60s through their work a decade before, Jean-Michel Basquiat captured modernity through graffiti which examined racism, and Haring was one of the few prominent artists during the AIDS crisis who focused upon the epidemic. Art’s duty is more than entertainment. So often it speaks truth to power when silenced is forced.

“I think it’s best when art can plant an idea that makes people question what they think or know,” Doe says. “Preferably, it would make people question the negative aspects of society in a positive way, such as whether particular views on LGBTQ issues are right or wrong, or other political, social or aesthetic ideologies. Hopefully in doing that, art can challenge bigotry, but the key is getting more and more people involved in and looking at contemporary art.”

This article and Oliver Doe’s art were featured in issue 2 of Stand Up magazine, which you can download here

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