“Michigan,” artist Peter Stack declared, “is great because of our diversity, and celebrating that multiplicity allows us all to flourish.”
Stack, who is earning a master’s in fine arts at the University of Michigan, is one of 28 artists whose work is represented in “The LGBTQ+ Artist in Michigan” at the Lansing Art Gallery.
“As a person who lives in rural Michigan, it’s uniquely wonderful to have representation and community support,” Stack added.
The exhibit, on view through June 29, showcases a mix of emerging and established artists from around the state. With work by 28 artists, it feels big and diverse. Sculptures and ceramics fill the windows, and paintings and pencil drawings hang alongside carved wood. There’s even a queer quilt.
The show is hosted in partnership with Suits and the City, a Greater Lansing networking organization and activist group for the LGBTQ+ community and allies. The exhibition’s celebration of queer joy and expression is not only powerful — it’s quite popular with audiences, who took to social media to share positive reviews after the May 11 opening reception.
“Last night had a lot of feels going on in that space, I was really glad to be a part of it,” one guest wrote.
“This was the best event I’ve been to since I’ve been in Lansing,” another attendee wrote.
Stack and other artists noted that celebrating queer art and joy is especially important in our current political climate. Lansing locals will remember when pride flags along Michigan Avenue were repeatedly burned last summer, and just last month a City of Lansing mural was defaced with antigay and anti-transgender hate speech.
In March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill adding LGBTQ+ people to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, permanently outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Whitmer announced the signing on her social media by stating, “Amid a nationwide attack on the LGBTQ+ community, we’re fighting to ensure every Michigander can live as their authentic self, free from discrimination and prejudice.”
But the fight is still raging. According to translegislation.com, seven anti-trans bills have been introduced in Michigan’s Legislature of this year.
“I think the world needs more courageous efforts to make queer art accessible in public spaces. I think this type of representation and visibility could lead to more empathy, compassion and understanding,” said Ferndale artist and educator Erin Brott-Holtzman, who trained at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and presented her first solo exhibition in 2019. Her work is inspired by the ways humans experience the environment and the psychological benefits of nature.
She noted that other events that celebrate queer art in Michigan, like Mighty Real/Queer Detroit, have been gaining momentum.
“To be a queer artist in Michigan right now is exciting, especially when galleries and curators are taking note of our work and creating more opportunities for emerging and established artists,” she said.
During the opening reception, multiple patrons shared positive remarks about pieces by Kae Britton, a nonbinary multidisciplinary artist who explores gender, transformation and persona through art. Britton has a bachelor’s degree in studio art with an emphasis on illustration from Grand Valley State University.
Also on view is SUMMIT, a large painting by Paul VerBurg, who recently moved to Okemos. A painter since 1975, VerBurg earned his bachelor’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009 after turning 50.
According to a review from VerBurg’s website, he paints in a “strongly Western” style — while also breaking all the rules of that style.
“It takes courage to express vulnerability. So, I stand by my belief that your art is courageous,” the reviewer, Elizabeth Soper, wrote.
Kalamazoo-based artist YVE moved to Michigan from Georgia in 2021 and says the strength of the Michigan LGBTQ+ community has helped them feel accepted, supported and loved.
“I feel that it is safe for me to be out in Michigan, and I am hopeful that seeing shows like this makes other people feel safe to express themselves,” they said. “I appreciate that the Lansing Art Gallery dedicated the time, space and effort to organize this show.”
YVE’s work explores the “anxiety and silliness” of an evolving relationship with gender, displaying painful or complicated experiences as bright and lighthearted. They noted that, as a transgender artist, having their work shown in a queer context is beneficial.
“I anthropomorphize myself as different animals and architectural characters, but sometimes the meaning gets passed over. In this show, I think people connected with those feelings, and that was really special to me,” they said.
Lorelei d’Andriole is an assistant professor of electronic art and intermedia at Michigan State University. The artist delighted the audience with a soundscape performance at the exhibit’s opening reception, during which she injected a snare drum with estrogen syringes. At one point, at least 75 people looked on in silence, some in tears.
According to d’Andriole’s social media, the performance was inspired by relearning the drums after coming out as transgender.
“When I sit behind the kit, I am utilizing the muscle memory I have developed, but whose muscles?” she wrote.
In a press release for the Lansing Art Gallery, d’Andriole wrote, “Performing these works in front of audiences has promoted conversations about bodies and gender. It is my sincerest hope that my work be used as an example and as permission for other trans people’s liberation, joy and becoming.”
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