Andy Warhol is arguably the most famous American artist, an icon as indelible as apple pie, baseball, Campbell’s Soup, and other symbols of American values. Yet Warhol is also synonymous with queer culture in New York, having welcomed drag queens and gay celebrities to his coterie, even appearing in drag himself.
That side of Warhol will be front and center in a pair of related exhibitions opening June 20 at the McNay Art Museum – Andy Warhol: Portraits and Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today – that both reveal the deep presence of gender fluidity in American art and culture long before the term was in common use.
Portraits includes Warhol’s ubiquitous silkscreens alongside rare polaroids and filmed “screen tests,” and Transamerica/n includes more than 100 works in all media by 57 artists, 10 of whom are from San Antonio, with some work commissioned specifically for the exhibition.
A Transamerica/n “microsite,” or website adjacent to the museum’s regular website, will also allow the addition of content, educational information, and discussion throughout the show and beyond.
Community Input Shaped Content
The museum has gone to great lengths to introduce San Antonio audiences to the alternately difficult, humorous, confrontational, flamboyant, introspective, and joyous content of both exhibitions. Extensive discussions with community committees composed of LGBTQIA+ artists, activists, and leaders helped shape the exhibition during its development phase, said Rene Barilleaux, head of curatorial affairs.
“It was very important from the beginning of this project that we have multiple voices at the table,” Barilleaux said. Fellow curators Jackie Edwards, Lauren Thompson, and Bianca Alvarez sought key input from the committees and invited several artists on the committees to participate in the show, among them Chris Castillo, Michael Martinez, and Nicki Lucio, a recent graduate of the Southwest School of Art undergoing gender transformation.
“There’s no one point of view,” Barilleaux explained. “We were very concerned because of the complexity of this topic that we would have multiple points of view – different gender representation, different age representation, different backgrounds, ethnicity – we wanted a range of voices.”
Informational and training sessions were also held for all McNay staff, and a free community question-and-answer session was held June 6, two weeks before the show opens.
During the session, one audience member asked why “straight” people should go see these exhibitions.
“We’re a teaching institution,” said McNay Executive Director Rich Aste, “so I often go to exhibitions where I don’t see myself reflected immediately, whether it’s my culture, my political views, my social views, my own background, and I walk out of those exhibitions feeling like a changed person.”
The museum’s vision is to experience transformation through art, he said, “and if we’re doing our job correctly, you should leave the McNay on every occasion a different person from how you arrived.”
‘Trans’ In All Its Forms
That open idea of transformation animated the approach to the exhibition by its curators, who stressed the multiple uses and meanings of the prefix “trans.”
“We’re using ‘trans’ in a broader sense,” said Barilleaux, who initially conceived the idea for Transamerica/n. “Not just about transgender, but about transformational, transnational, transhistorical. So we’re thinking about the ways these issues are crossing boundaries of all sorts, not just sex orientation boundaries.”
Taken together, these exhibitions address an entire spectrum of gender and identity, including gendered, ungendered, and cross-gendered appearances, such as San Antonio artist Mari Hernandez’s Los Hermanos of 2019, depicting the artist in the garb of Colonial and Mexican soldiers, and Lesley Dill’s 1995 dual portraits, each titled Poem Dress for a Hermaphrodite.
Latinx artists are prominent, including an opening night performance and resulting video by Jose Villalobos, a large installation by Michael Martinez commemorating the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, and an altar by Davíd Zamora Casas that flips the traditional Dia de los Muertos symbology to become a “Dia de las Vivas,” celebrating living symbols of queer culture in San Antonio.
Asked what it means for his work to be shown at the McNay, Zamora Casas said, “I have multiple communities that are joyous that I’m here. As a Mexican-American I’m proud to be here and as a member of the GLBT+ community.”
With this exhibition, the museum itself – in the past perhaps not so welcoming to LGBTQIA and Latinx communities – has also reached a transformational point, Zamora Casas said. “So it’s not only a celebration and an accomplishment for me to be here, but it’s also an accomplishment and a gratification of sorts to come to the McNay and to see the labels in English and in Spanish, to see that there is a queer running the [museum] … It’s a win-win celebration.”
Among those labels is a helpful glossary meant to help viewers navigate the many terms in current use: cisgender, gender binary, genderqueer, and LGBTQ among them.
One installation might catch viewers by surprise. Xavier Schipani’s specially designed “Transilient” bathroom installation will actually be mounted in an all-gender restroom on the museum’s first floor. Schipani’s piece directly confronts “bathroom bill” ideologies with a message of positivity and affirmation, according to Rachel Treviño, head of communications and marketing.
This bathroom, she said, will be accessible to all.
Andy Warhol: Portraits and Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today open June 20 and run through Sept. 15. An accompanying exhibition, TransSanAntonian: Examining Trans Identities and Gender Fluidity in the Archives, runs the same dates in the McNay’s garden level.