Palm Springs Art Museum launches permanent LGBTQ+ programming

California’s Palm Springs Art Museum (PSAM) has launched Q+ Art, a new programme that seems particularly tailored to its host city’s rainbow population. The long-term initiative centres on LGBTQ+ artists and includes exhibitions, public programming, awards and the addition of more LGBTQ+ artists’ works to the museum’s permanent collection. It is the first of its kind in the US, and perhaps the first in the world, at an art museum that does not specifically focus on LGBTQ+ art and artists.

During an afternoon-long programme in March that celebrated the beginning of Q+ Art, the PSAM director’s introductory remarks were followed by some words from Craig Hartzman, the museum’s board president and a major donor to the initiative. Hartzman and his husband, James John, have pledged a hefty $1m towards an endowment for Q+ Art.

“It was just something that made sense,” Hartzman said in his remarks. “We’re looking at the LGTBQ+ community and realised we weren’t doing enough to reach out.” While the couple clearly had a personal stake in the programme’s subject matter, Hartzman revealed another, unexpected motivation: “The biggest reason we did it is because we’re parents.” He and John have raised two children, both now adults in their 20s and living on their own. “We always made sure they could soar in any way they could,” Hartzman said, “that they could reach and not be judged—whatever their journey was.”

Hartzman tells The Art Newspaper that he is concerned about young people needing to see themselves reflected in the museum, as well as telling stories about a population long hidden, even banned, from public spaces. (The continuing political battle over drag performances is just one of the latest examples; the federally funded Smithsonian museums have quietly removed drag shows from their programming as a result of Republicans in Congress reviving the culture wars.) With this new initiative, Hartzman says, young people “can walk into the museum and see Q+ Art and see different artists that happen to be gay, happen to be LGBTQ+—and they can see themselves”.

Art for a gay city

With over 150,000 sq. ft of space, PSAM is the largest cultural institution in the Coachella Valley, two hours east of Los Angeles and noted for its annual music festival. (The museum also operates the Architecture and Design Center a few blocks away.) The PSAM collection runs the gamut from Native American art to Western European modernism to contemporary works.

museum director Adam Lerner with Untitled (1388) (1988) by Jim Isermann Scarlet Cheng

While the Q+ Art announcement may surprise those whose image of Palm Springs is palm-lined golf courses and serene retirement communities, the city has developed into something of a gay hub. Today, it is estimated that between 30% and 50% of the population is LGTBQ+.

Our museum should take a leading role nationally in telling the stories of LGBTQ+ contributions to art and design

Adam Lerner, director, PSAM

The idea for Q+ Art came to PSAM director Adam Lerner about a year-and-a-half ago, shortly after he assumed his position at the museum. “Considering how significant the LGBTQ+ demographic is to Palm Springs, it’s simply obvious that our museum should take a leading role nationally in telling the stories of LGBTQ+ contributions to art and design,” Lerner has said.

“I floated the idea to Craig Hartzman, and his enthusiasm was beyond my expectation,” Lerner tells The Art Newspaper. Lerner then put together a proposal “that included a comprehensive vision for the museum to focus on the contributions of artists who identify as LGBTQ+, and I pitched that to him”. That was when Hartzman and John came through with their $1m pledge. Since then, almost another $1m has been raised, all from other individual donors.

Gabriela Ruiz’s Untitled (Yellow Love Seat) (2019) features in the programme’s inaugural exhibition, To Move Toward the Limits of Living Photo: Bermudez Projects, Los Angeles

The March event launched the programme with “all of the key elements”, Lerner says, including talks, performances and the opening of a new exhibition, To Move Toward the Limits of Living (until 13 January 2025), of works by LGBTQ+ artists from PSAM’s permanent collection. Q+ Art also includes the new Keynote Award, this year given to the Toronto-based Cree artist Kent Monkman, whose work often serves as an interrogation of Western European and American art history. “The final component of the programme is to build our collection,” Lerner says, “so that we can support queer artists by purchasing their work, and also tell the story of contributions by queer artists to our history.” PSAM is currently in the process of hiring a designated curator for the Q+ Art programme.

Work in progress

To Move Toward the Limits of Living, organised by the adjunct curator Robert J. Kett, includes 45 works in various mediums by 19 artists in a gallery on the main floor of the museum. A disclaimer is posted at the two entrances: “Please be advised that a few of the works in this exhibition depict sexual content.” (This may refer to Peter Berlin’s nude self-portraits.) But the definition of LGBTQ+ in regard to who will be featured in Q+ Art exhibitions is something of a work in progress—especially with artists who may not have been public about their identities.

While the inclusion of certain artists, particularly contemporary ones, is clear—David Hockney, Julie Mehretu, Catherine Opie, Lari Pittman—others, especially those from the pre-Stonewall era, may be less so. The case of Grant Wood, for example, shows how history is already being rewritten.

Wood’s lithograph of a classic Midwestern farm with rolling hills and a house in the distance, March (1941), is on view as part of To Move Toward the Limits of Living. Wood was long rumoured to have been homosexual, and a 2018 exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art presumed that he was—with a whole chapter in the accompanying catalogue titled “Grant Wood Goes Gay” by the art historian Richard Meyer. And what of the content of his work? “Wood’s reading of a landscape recasts and deforms it in a beautiful way,” Kett says. “Many critics have said he brings a queer eye to his reading of the American landscape.”

Fittingly enough, the year will close out at PSAM with a large exhibition of more than 100 works by Hockney, one of the world’s most famous out-and-proud contemporary artists. The travelling show David Hockney: Perspective Should Be Reversed: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, on view earlier this year at Hawaii’s Honolulu Museum of Art, will open at PSAM in November.

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