Free to Live & Love


Photo by Jimmy DeSana

Free To Live & Love

-Art Reporting by Sara Newman

Within a social echo chamber dominated by a self-reflective Internet, it’s too easy to reaffirm a belief in one’s goodness and the validity of one’s ideas. But if we truly hope to become better versions of ourselves each day, we need to push away from our screens, exit the echo chamber, and interact with those who will force us to consider if the stories we tell ourselves are true.

Luckily for art lovers in Los Angeles, OHWOW Gallery’s latest show, Queer Fantasy, presents such an opportunity. Curated by William J. Simmons, the exhibition brings the work of ten different artists together, challenging societal narratives about the homogeneity of the queer experience. The art pieces in the show not only engross viewer’s senses, but they also educate—the works showcased in Queer Fantasy “recount and preserve a frequently marginalized history of queer voices within contemporary art.”

While there is something undeniably playful about Leidy Churchman’s egg-topped, bacon-handled ceramic teapot, and Jimmy DeSana’s photograph of a smiling Debbie Harry set against a Pepto-Bismol-pink wall, Queer Fantasy attempts to showcase the “the idiosyncratic aesthetic of Queerness,” using art to challenge the all-too pervasive misconceptions about queer life as a spectacle of hairspray and glitter, thereby unseating the misplaced belief in a singular drive behind the creation of all queer art.

This intergenerational, multimedia show, with works from A.K. Burns, Leidy Churchman, Jimmy DeSana, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Mariah Garnett, Jacolby Satterwhite, David Benjamin Sherry, Jack Smith, A.L. Steiner, and John Waters, is at once lighthearted and self-serious. The mixture of black and white with bright pops of pink energizes the show while the individual pieces, with subversive titles like “You Good Dog,” “Submission,” and “Gay is Not Enough,” serve as “critical tool[s] for the reformulation of normative art histories.”

The focal point of the exhibition is an installation by experimental filmmaker Mariah Garnett. “Encounters I May or May Not Have Had with Peter Berlin” projects images from an old-school film projector onto a disco ball in the center of the gallery’s back room. While the low-hanging disco ball evokes images of flashy, glamorous queer culture, the true feat of the installation is the intricacy and beauty of the film refracted against the tiles of the ball and recast as polka-dot images against the white walls. The tiered vision of film strips connecting from projector to projector is so dazzling that you could be forgiven for failing to notice the fast-moving scenes in the dozens of thumb-sized images, but it is the integration of splendor and function that makes the disco-ball-as-projector so breathtaking.

Unconventional beauty and reimagined forms, however, are not limited to the projector room. Heterosexual masculine norms of the art world and the world at large are confronted and called into question as angrily scribbled drawings appear beside reimagined landscape portraits and rainbow-striped nudes. The art in Queer Fantasy is joyous and vibrant, yet each piece speaks to the artists’ need to reclaim spaces of their own in which to make their voices heard and their truths recognized.

While each artist clearly brings a unique aesthetic and personal vision to the show, with some pieces intended to dazzle and others meant to appall, the collective works of these ten artists present viewers with a painfully cohesive narrative of individual marginalization. There’s no intrinsic finger-pointing within the art, and yet the focus on micro-aggression and daily injustice against the queer community makes it hard for one to leave the gallery without a sense of obligation to be a better advocate.

Rather than offering easy self-affirmation, the pieces in Queer Fantasy force us to question the roles that we play—or fail to play—in creating and honoring alternative spaces in which individuals are free to thrive, uninhibited by social constructs and restrictions.

Queer Fantasy is on display from July 11 until August 15 at OHWOW Gallery in West Hollywood.