Pride Month is seen by many as a big celebration — a way for the LGBTQ+ community to claim space and be visible. But, curator, sculptor and garment designer David Bermingham wanted to avoid tokenizing artists who identify as queer in June-specific exhibitions. LGBTQ+ artists exist 365 days a year, he said.
With that in mind, the Society of Arts + Crafts exhibition "PRIED" questions the notion of queer art by highlighting LGBTQ+ makers from near and far who create art everyday, whether or not the work centers on queer identity. Curated by Bermingham and Izzy Berdan, the exhibition offers a chorus of queer voices grappling with issues from companionship to ritualism through a variety of mediums, including textiles, pottery and woodworking.
By the entryway, Chad Mize's piece uses aerosol, glitter and resin on wood to declare he’s happily gay in multicolored font. Further in, Boston-area artist Emmett Yael’s handmade violin and woodworker Heather Dawson's furniture speak of tradition. And then there are pieces like Erik Bergrin's “The Crematorium,” made from jute, boning, steel, cotton and sisal that adds a darkness to the exhibition.
This variety throughout the exhibition is intentional. Bermingham explained it goes from “fun, kind of gay ... to a little more dark, fragile, heavy feeling in the back.”
In Bermingham’s work, it’s "always about kind of fragility," he said. “I look at being a gay man born in the rise of the AIDS epidemic … from a very white middle class perspective.” His sculptures reassign value to materials he finds at “thrift shops and yard sales where people are offloading and discarding,” he explained. Domesticity and balancing gender roles in same sex relationships are also touch points. To create his pieces, the platters and other materials get “individually drilled through with either a diamond tip drill for the glass or a cobalt drill for the metals."
Celebrated furniture maker Vivian Beer's “Twin Engine" beckons visitors in. The gleaming white bench with smooth round edges, made from formed and fabricated steel with an automotive finish conjures up, for me, memories of a vintage Cadillac.
Beer said America’s love affair with cars was an inspiration. A Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow at The National Air and Space Museum in 2014, Beer cited the Cadillac’s connection to aviation. The Cadillac fin, she explained, became subtler or more overt depending on the year and was “a celebration of the advent of flight. That fin is a mimicry of the tail fin of an airplane.” The fin speaks more about imagination and feeling than function, and for Beer, it’s what makes industrial design exciting.
Her materials of choice include metal and concrete; its resistance and the cultural relationship affiliated with it pique her interest. “If you look at the decorative arts history of metal, or the industrial design relationship of materials, like metal and concrete, that relationship is infrastructure,” she said.
Beer develops pieces that “are hyper-specific but also have a lot of room,” so the viewer will get the feeling behind it and “tie it to the actual experience. That's more potent for you — not my experience,” she said.
Arthur Halvorsen’s ceramics overflow with emotion. The painted scenes on the pottery reflect the world he wants to live in, according to his artist statement. His pieces feature vivid landscapes and layers of detail, drawing inspiration from pop-art and his love of late artist, Keith Haring.
Halvorsen prefers earthenware because “it’s the bastard child of clay and ceramics,” he shared. He thinks of his work as a coloring book and approaches each pot, he said, “with a story that I make up in my mind and it doesn't matter if you know it or not as the viewer … but I want them to come up with their own story of what's going on in the pot.”
Halvorsen and Beer's work both aim to make room for the viewer to show up with their own stories and ideas — to invite viewers to be in relationship with the art. That was also what the curators hoped for with the exhibit — to create space for artists in the LGBTQ+ community.
“We all know that we're not one thing,” Bermingham said when talking about curating “PRIED.” “We've had to come out, right? But why isn’t this viewed as letting folks in? I let my parents into my gayness … friends and family into my closet. That's kind of the idea of the show. This is our space, and this is our way to have fun and throw a party.”
Those up for it are welcome in.
“PRIED” is on display at Society of Arts + Crafts in Boston's Seaport through June 30.