GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 8.1-2 (2002) 241-249
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The GLQ Gallery
Slippery When Wet
An Exhibition Dossier
Sarah L. Stifler
The work of lesbian artists in Los Angeles has often been overlooked, even in alternative and feminist projects in art history. 1 In response to that exclusion, I co-curated Slippery When Wet: Locating the Lesbian Artist in the Los Angeles Cultural Landscape, an exhibition at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center that ran from 8 August to 9 September 2001. 2 The show featured the work of six emerging lesbian-identified artists who came of age both as women and as artists in the wake of the liberation movements of the 1970s and the advent of postmodern feminism and queer dialogues in the 1980s. They understand that the idea of a singular lesbian art is as slippery and elusive as that of a singular lesbian identity. Rather than try to capture a distinctive lesbian experience or sensibility, Slippery When Wet considered the unpredictable effects of lesbian desire as it intersects with the visual practices of photography, painting, mixed-media art, and digital art.
The idea for the show came out of my dissertation, "Slippery When Wet: Visibility Politics and Lesbian Art in Los Angeles, 1970-2000." Much of my research has focused on two exhibitions that displayed the work of lesbian-identified women in Los Angeles: the Great American Lesbian Art Show (GALAS), held at the Los Angeles Woman's Building in 1980, and All But the Obvious (ABO), mounted by LA Contemporary Exhibitions in 1990. Slippery When Wet was, in part, an effort to continue the unofficial tradition of staging lesbian exhibitions in Los Angeles at the turn of each decade. The show differentiated itself from the two previous exhibitions by focusing on the cultural and ethnic diversity among some of the many lesbian communities in Los Angeles. In some ways Slippery When Wet [End Page 241] combined GALAS's variety of media with ABO's blatant references to sexuality. The works in the show demonstrated both a high level of craftsmanship and a critical understanding of the slippery nature of lesbian desire as it is represented visually.
While my dissertation focuses on how lesbians sought visibility in Los Angeles's alternative art world during the 1970s and early 1980s, Slippery When Wet showcased the work of some younger women now launching their careers as lesbian-identified artists in the city. ABO's legacy is clear in Slippery When Wet's use of photography and text as well as in its unapologetic display of sexual desire. The artists shown in Slippery When Wet came of age in the context of queer cultural dialogues that illuminated the constantly changing terms of desire and lesbians' abilities to imagine and represent the multiple intersections of their desires. Although modest in scale (and budget), Slippery When Wet will, I hope, open the door to further investigations of the relation between lesbian identity and artistic practice, in Los Angeles and elsewhere. What follows is a brief discussion and a selection of the artwork displayed in the exhibition. Needless to say, the single image that each artist is allotted here is not representative of her entire body of work; indeed, in some cases the image has been chosen from a much larger series. This gallery serves only as a preliminary introduction to the images of these six artists, for whom biographical information can be found below.
Maggie Parr's paintings expose the cycles of emotional and bodily flux and growth throughout life that often dictate the changing terms of one's desire (fig. 1). Her style evokes an intensely emotional consideration of how internal conflict and development can structure and influence one's sexual and political desires. Marie Elena Boyd's photographs are sexy, playful images that directly refer to photographs from popular pornography (fig. 2). The photographs and the women in them make no apologies or excuses for their sexual desire or their sexual "deviance." Less obviously provocative are Ellen Liao...