Queer|Art|Prize honors Catherine Opie and Reina Gossett
Last night, in a momentous new event, a diverse and vibrant full-capacity audience of artists, supporters, and allies gathered for the first annual Queer|Art|Prize at Manhattan's Hudson Mercantile. New York-based nonprofit Queer|Art filled the cavernous space with dynamic installations and performances celebrating the thriving state of queer art today, and honored photographer Catherine Opie and rising multimedia artist and director Reina Gossett with awards recognizing their significant contributions to queer culture. Opie was acknowledged in the category of Sustained Achievement, while Gossett received the award for Recent Work for her intimately political animated short, "The Personal Things." Both awards were accompanied by a $10,000 prize. Made possible with support fromHBO, and developed in collaboration with the Queer|Art artist community, last night's Queer/Art/Prize established itself as a singular event that both awards and demonstrates the vitality and diversity of contemporary queer expression.
Catherine Opie's formally arresting photographs have explored multiform facets of queer American identity and community. She was chosen by three judges-visual and performance artistNarcissister, performance artist, activist and author Ivan Monforte, and writer and cultural critic C. Carr-for the Sustained Achievement Award. Finalists for the Recent Work award, honoring specific projects made or debuted since the beginning of 2016, included artists working in a number of mediums, from Yance Ford for his documentary film Strong Island (2017), to photographer/House of LaBeija dancer Kia LaBeija for her Self Portraits (2016-2017), to Sarah Schulman for the 2016 book Conflict Is Not Abuse, to Reina Gossett for her animated short tribute to trans activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, "The Personal Things" (2016), released on Trans Day of Resilience/Remembrance. Ultimately, a panel made up of speculative fiction author Janani Balasubramanian; critic, curator, and Light Industry founder Ed Halter; and curator and Participant Inc. founder Lia Gangitano selected Gossett's animation about the veteran activist-whose UNCOMPROMISING voice has empowered trans women of color from Stonewall through today-for the prize.
Onstage at the ceremony, Gossett said, "I am so honored to be awarded with the Recent Work award. It is truly meaningful to bring the conversation back to Miss Major, who this film is about-meaningful to bring all of the people who have been relegated and denigrated into the background to the foreground. I want to say that queer art to me is about really centering the people and the voices that are most vulnerable, the people who history often forgets. Whenever we get a chance to say 'actually your voice matters-actually, not only does your voice matter, but you're part of the reason why we're here today looking so fabulous'-that is a thing to celebrate."
Accepting her award in a filmed statement, raising a glass from California, Catherine Opie said, "I want to thank the Queer/Art/Prize and HBO for bestowing upon me this great honor of Sustainable Achievement. 'Sustainable achievement' right now is an interesting thing to think about in our life. After 30 years of making work in relationship to my own identity as a lesbian, or radical dyke, so to speak, sustainable achievement should be thought about not in terms of myself as an artist, but what we all can do to sustain visibility within our own community."
She continued, "We've had a horrendous year of Trump and his administration-we are looking at more hate crimes than we would've imagined we would witness right after getting the right to get married, and some sense of equality. When I think about Sustainable Achievement, I think, 'It's great, I've worked really hard, I've achieved, and I'm glad I'm being recognized for it,' but then I also feel that our work isn't done whatsoever... I want to raise a glass for us to continue to sustain the ability to have visibility within our communities, for us to teach our teenagers that it's safe to come out, for us to work together not only as artists but as activists to continue in this movement that we all gathered for in the beginning of the AIDS crisis and that we need to carry forward."
Before and after the awards ceremony, Queer/Art/Prize attendees encountered numerous video installations that gave a sweeping view of the scope of queer expression with which Queer|Art has been affiliated; works by artists who have participated in the organization's programs since 2009 danced across installations of stacked vintage TV sets. In a separate area, music videos from the likes of New York cabaret legend Justin Vivian Bond, M. Lamar, Shea Diamond, and Alynda Segarra's Hurray for the Riff Raff played in loop at designated listening/viewing stations, and across the space, an expansive VINYL installation displayed texts from queer literary figures. An additional installation commissioned specifically for this event -The Queer|Art Community Portrait Project-featured a series of recent portraits of artists and organizers who are part of the Queer|Art community, by photographer Eric McNatt.
The evening also featured select performances, introduced via the wacky charm of comedian/performance artist Erin Markey. Recent Work Finalist and voguing sensation Kia LaBeija performed live, and singer/soul artist Shea Diamond gifted audiences with a performance of her anthemic track, "I Am Her." DJ May Kwok set the exhilarating tone for the evening, weaving between house, pop, and hip hop, and culminating the event with a lively dance party.
Queer|Art Founder/Executive Director Ira Sachs and Managing Director Travis Chamberlain gave speeches that drew on the history of the organization, and the significance of the two awards presented for Queer/Art/Prize. "Queer|Art was borne out of the recognition of a generation of both artists and audiences that were lost to the AIDS Crisis, and in a profound understanding that one of the many repercussions of that loss was a lack of mentors and role models for a new generation of queer artists," said Sachs. "Queer|Art was founded to serve as a ballast against that loss, as well as against a fundamental lack of both economic and institutional support for queer artists in our country and culture. As an organization we are here to encourage, support, and empower a wide and growing number of artists from all backgrounds to value their own lives and their own unique, queer, creativity. As we get closer to our 10th year, Queer|Art is only at its beginning. We are a very young organization, and we are in our early bloom."