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New exhibition showcases gay and lesbian artists of the early 20th century

Russell Cheney, New Mexico, 1929, oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 39 1/2 in. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Russell Cheney, 1942

An exhibition of the work of gay and lesbian artists in the Southwest during the first part of the 20th century has opened at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Out West: Gay and Lesbian Artists in the Southwest 1900-1969 showcases the work of people who came to the region seeking freedom denied elsewhere.

The exhibition includes works by queer artists from the early 20th century through 1969, when the Stonewall riots marked the beginning of a reshaping of attitudes.

Curator Christian Waguespack said it surprised him that there had not been a comprehensive look at the impact of gay and lesbian artists during that period. He said many people moved to the region from the eastern U.S. and found a welcoming, unconventional environment.

"Santa Fe was becoming known across the country as a gay destination, as a place where queer people could come and not only meet each other, but also build lives together," he said.

The exhibit includes many painting styles as well as other mediums like photography and pottery. Artists featured include Marsden Hartley, Cady Wells and Agnes Sims. Waguespack adds one thing he likes about the show is that anyone who walks in without reading about the exhibit may just see it as a survey of early 20th century New Mexican art.

"These folks were so ingrained into the fabric of the artistic community of the Southwest that we couldn't have what we understand as New Mexican art history without them," he said.

The exhibit will run through September 2, 2024.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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