In October 2016, the world’s first and only museum focused on LGBTQ art, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in Soho shutdown for a six-month renovation. When it reopened in March this year, the museum had nearly doubled in size. The expansion was first announced in August 2015, and was made possible when an adjacent storefront opened up. For the museum, it was the perfect opportunity to expand their mission.
“Now more than ever the LGBTQ community needs a place to come together and be empowered by artists and their work,” Gonzalo Casals, the director of the museum, told Curbed.
Casals was specifically referring to the Trump administration’s health care plan and how it would impact the transgender community, and how the administration has already rolled back protections that were in place for the transgender community.
The museum’s expansion is also symbolic in that the museum turns 30 this year. The earliest version of the museum was birthed in the Soho loft of its two co-founders, Charles Leslie, and Fritz Lohman in 1969. The couple wanted to provide a space for gay artists to showcase their work, and their weekend exhibitions quickly started attracting hundreds of attendees.
When the AIDS epidemic hit in the 1980s, Leslie and Lohman saw that the families of gay artists who lost their lives to the disease were trying to destroy or discard their artwork, so the couple made a concerted effort to preserve this work.
In 1987, the couple founded the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, Inc and ran it from a gallery on Prince Street. It wasn’t until 2011 that New York State Board of Regents officially declared the foundation a museum. Today the museum is located out of a much larger space located at 26 Wooster Street.
A large part of the expansion was also necessitated by the fact there was a greater demand to showcase the work of new artists and their existing collection. The museum hosts about six to eight major shows annually but would be forced to shut down in between the shows to prepare for the next one.
Now the museum has a new dedicated exhibition space that will also allow them to better circulate their existing materials: the museum has a collection of over 30,000 objects. In addition, this expansion also saw the creation of a new book and gift shop, and improved storage areas.
Earlier this month, the museum launched a new initiative: QUEERPOWER. Each year the museum plans to commission an artist or a group of artists to create artwork for the facade, which works as “an intersection of art and social justice,” according to Casals.
For the inaugural year, the museum picked Silence=Death Collective, whose work was the inspiration behind the pink triangle ACT UP poster that became prevalent during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. In the artwork they’ve created for Leslie-Lohman’s facade, they’ve reorganized the elements of the poster to address the issues faced by the LGBTQ community today. The facade was unveiled earlier this month to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
“We again are facing dangerous times that may very well imperil the lives of the entire LGBTQ community,” Charles Kresloff, one of the founding members of the collective, said in a statement. “On the 30th anniversary of the Silence=Death poster, the collective feels it’s time to speak up again. Resistance comes in many forms and now more than ever we can’t sit back and think that we’re safe.”
Since their opening in March, Casals says the museum has received a tremendous amount of support and appreciation. In renovating the museum, the team also placed a strong emphasis on not just representing white gay male perspectives, but also people of other ethnicities and gender expressions, and that’s what the museum hopes to do more of going forward.