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

Curated by David J. Getsy

A public conversation between Greg Day and David J. Getsy
Thursday, April 23rd, 6 PM
Price Auditorium,The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

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, occupied 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 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 these 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. 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.

Greg Day is a Los Angeles-based artist, cultural anthropologist, and social justice advocate. His photographs document artists and communities who are stigmatized for their race, gender identity and sexual practice. These include: the Civil Rights Movement in the South, pioneering genderqueer performance artists in Greenwich Village, African-American life on the Gullah/Geechee Coast, the LGBT Rights Movement, and California's diverse cultures.www.gregdayphotgraphy.com

David J. Getsy, curator, is Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History of Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. www.davidgetsy.com

Greg Day, Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor, 1975.
© Greg Day, 2020, www.gregdayphotgraphy.com











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