It is not just the beauty of art, it turns out, that lies in the eye of the beholder, but also its “queerness”. Tate Britain is preparing its first show dedicated to “queer art”, a term long understood by art historians but which still has the power to bring the museum-going public up short. Does queer art, some ask, refer to a specific school of protest? Is it designed for a particular audience? And do paintings that might be described in this way really have a different perspective to offer? On the evidence of the work coming together for this landmark show, the answer is “yes, all of this and more”.
When the doors open to Queer British Art 1861-1967, almost 50 years since the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales, the curator of the exhibition, Clare Barlow, believes these difficult questions will all be tackled. Perhaps surprisingly, Barlow’s choices even include some works that originally had no clear position on gender or on sexuality, but simply came to be celebrated as gems of gay subculture.