Friday, September 15, 2017

A QUEER TEMPLE IN NEW YORK
PAYS TRIBUTE TO OSCAR WILDE



FOR us, Oscar Wilde is a beloved saint of Antinous.

Now the New York- and Ireland-based artist duo David McDermott and Peter McGough enshrined him in a new installation, The Oscar Wilde Temple, located in a church in Manhattan's West Village.

Upon entering the space, visitors find a first assembly of portraits depicting historical LGBT figures, many of whom championed gay rights or were otherwise killed because of their sexuality and gender identity.

Paintings of gay icons and activists Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and Xulhaz Mannan become constellations of martyrdom adjacent to the installation’s main event: the hagiography of Wilde. 


They illuminate the twisted heritage of queer advancements and reactionary violence against those advancements.

It symbolizes how the queer community must often rejoice and suffer in equal measure.

And the dim mood lighting of the temple recalls that of a funerary chapel, creating an atmosphere of meditation and mourning.

The Victorian fabric covering many of the temple walls is florid but altogether muted in a silent, muddy palette. 


Votive candles in purple-tinted glass dot the temple’s landscape, asking us to remember the dead.

Turning to McDermott and McGough's main focus, the deification of Wilde, we see a variety of mementos and devotionals. Paintings, sculptures, and quotations argue for Wilde’s foresight and forbearance on queer history.


The most elaborate of these examples is Oscar Wilde Altarpiece (2017), which depicts Wilde as a kind of Roman god or Catholic saint. He stands in Victorian dandy garb, hands clasped and chin pushed slightly up to confer a sense of grace. 

He is perched above his prison number from Reading Gaol, C.33, in a triumphant yet relaxed posture.

Just behind the figure, a stained-glass image of Jesus peers into the temple, his image beckoning viewers to connect Wilde’s narrative to a number of Christian martyrs who willfully died for what they believed in.

This sly juxtaposition makes a case for Wilde's sanctification as an icon of queer suffering.

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