Screw Magazine, ”Doodling Dykes” review of A Lesbian Show (1978)

A Lesbian Show is widely recognized to be the first US exhibition dedicated solely to lesbian artists. The show was held at the 112 Workshop/112 Greene Street, now known as White Columns in New York, a not-for-profit alternative space dedicated to embracing marginalized artists and works. The show, organized by artist Harmony Hammond, was dominated by abstract works, many of which were highly personal and concerned with issues of self-doubt, fear, and homophobia. Fran Winant’s Dog with Secret Language (1975) depicted the language Winant developed as a child to write in her diary about what she referred to as her forbidden thoughts and feelings. Maryann King’s Gaslight (1976) consists of the artist’s personal writings on venetian blinds, which were then painted over and rearranged, mimicking the process of concealing what is deemed perverse or unacceptable. The trend toward abstraction reflects not only a larger artistic trend, but also a fear of and desire to subvert the male gaze.

Screw magazine, a pornographic tabloid, chose to review the show, titling the review “Doodling Dykes.” The works chosen for print were described as “the best, which happens also to be the sexiest, of everything that was on display.” The writer goes on to describe this “sexy” work in the basest, most demeaning terms, and he ends with this statement: “The show [is] to culture what headphones are to the deaf: useless.”

While the few legitimate publications that reviewed the exhibition lauded its efforts, the existence of reviews like Screw’s point to an overarching trend in the exhibition of lesbian art and imagery. Despite their efforts to create a safe space for lesbian artists, which had not been afforded to them in the mainstream art world, the eighteen participating artists were reduced to their ability to titillate a heterosexual male audience. This occurrence, rather than being an anomaly, reflects a constant concern for those creating and exhibiting lesbian art. Despite our best efforts, we remain “doodling dykes.”

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