We celebrate the opening of the exhibition “The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble” with an artist talk from 6 PM. The photographer Greg Day and the curator David Getsy will discuss genderqueer performance art, disruptions of social orders and outrageous costumes. From 7 PM you can join the curator and artist for a glass of champagne at the vernissage and admire Day’s photographs of Varble’s performance art.
6 PM: Artist Talk with photographer Greg Day and curator David Getsy, moderated by Heiner Schulze (Gay Museum).
7 PM: Vernissage
The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by 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.
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 is 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.
The exhibition is curated by David J. Getsy.
Supported by the Senate Department for Culture and Europe.