Using gender indeterminate models, including his/herself, artist Del LaGrace Volcano seeks to turn the notion of gender by birth into gender by choice in “Del LaGrace Volcano: A Mid-Career Retrospective” now showing at New York’s Leslie+Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.
Volcano’s pieces are not passive in their depictions of gender otherness. The question posed in many of the photos—a person with breasts, a purse, and full beard; Volcano in full makeup modeling a frilly red skirt, hairy chest, and muscular arms; Rachel Maddow posing at home in traditionally male attire—is clear: where does gender come from and why does it matter?
The demand is overt and sometimes overly-dramatic. But the California-born Volcano believes Americans are deeply confining in their definition of gender, much more so than in Europe, where the artist has shown extensively.
“While not always unproblematic, there seems to be a much greater willingness to see and engage with lives outside the norm” Volcano told the Huffington Post, “the increasing power of corporate-sponsored, capital C conservatism [in the U.S.] may well succeed in its goals: to erase the few civil, social and human rights that we have managed to acquire.”
In this light, the show’s brutal methods seem necessary and timely.
Leslie+Lohman’s chief curator, Jonathan David Katz, previously co-curated “HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” which explored themes of deviance from sexual norms in a more historical way. And while Volcano’s show brings that same theme into a fully contemporary light, it simultaneously asks even more universal and basic questions about sexuality.
You can see photos from “Del LaGrace Volcano: A Mid-Career Retrospective,” which began Sept. 19 and runs through Nov. 11, on the museum’s website (WARNING: Links to nude images). Admission to the museum is free.