The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day

The Schwules Museum Berlin is pleased to announce The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day. Curated by David J. Getsy, Professor at the University of Virginia, the exhibition brings to light the work of performance artist Stephen Varble (1946–1984) through the photographs taken by Greg Day (b.1944) of his costumes, performances, and collaborations.

Greg Day (American, b. 1944) | Stephen Varble at the 12th Annual Avant-Garde Festival 1975 | © Greg Day

In costumes made from street trash, food waste, and stolen objects, Stephen Varble took to the streets of 1970s New York City to perform his “Gutter Art.” With disruption as his aim, he led uninvited costumed tours through the galleries of SoHo, occupied Fifth Avenue gutters, and burst into banks and boutiques in his gender-confounding ensembles. Varble made the recombination of signs for gender a central theme in his increasingly outrageous costumes and performances. While maintaining he/him as his pronouns, Varble performed gender as an open question in both his life and his work, sometimes identifying as a female persona, Marie Debris. Only later would the term “genderqueer” emerge to describe the kind of self-made, non-binary gender options that Varble adopted throughout his life and in his disruptions of the 1970s art world.

Greg Day (American, b. 1944) | Stephen Varble in the Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe (for the Chemical Bank Protest) | 22 March 1976 | © Greg Day

At the pinnacle moment of Varble’s public performances, the photographer Greg Day captured the inventiveness and energy of his genderqueer costume confrontations. Trained as an artist and anthropologist and with a keen eye for documenting ephemeral culture as it flourished, Day took hundreds of photographs of Varble’s trash couture, public performances, and events in 1975 and 1976. Varble understood the importance of photographers, and Day was his most important photographic collaborator. This exhibition brings together a selection of Day’s photographs of Varble performing his costume works and also includes Day’s photographs of Varble’s friends and collaborators such as Peter Hujar, Shibata Atsuko, Agosto Machado, and Warhol stars Jackie Curtis, Taylor Mead, and Mario Montez.

Varble sought to make a place for himself outside of art’s institutions and mainstream cultures, all the while critiquing them both. The story of Varble told through Day’s photographs are both about their synergistic artistic friendship and about the queer networks and communities that made such an anti-institutional and genderqueer practice imaginable. Together, Varble and Day worked to preserve the radical potential of Gutter Art for the future.

Vernissage: 5 November 2021 at 6 PM
Exhibition
: 6 November 2021 until 21 March 2022

www.schwulesmuseum.de

 

SMART. QUEER SMART.

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