sh[OUT]: Contemporary art and human rights

LGBTI themes in art still have the power to shock, but Celeste West finds that GoMA's current exhibition also serves to educate.

Article by Celeste West | 19 Jun 2009

GoMA's social justice exhibition this year is sh[OUT], on the topic of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex life. With such a broad remit, it's a surprise to begin with Ins A Kromminga's series of intimate, visceral drawings on the forced and very often harmful gender reassignment of intersexed children by the medical profession. It's a delight to see art which manages to be insightful, explicit and political at the same time.

The main area hosts an impressive and diverse collection of works ranging from Patricia Cronin's unexpectedly moving Monument to a Marriage, a funerary sculpture of embracing lesbian lovers, to Robert Mapplethorpe's highly explicit Jim and Tom, Sausalito 1977. The sheer variety of work ensures that there is something here for everyone, including plenty to be offended by if so inclined. The majority of the exhibits are centered around portraiture, an approach which focuses sharply on the humanity of each subject and on levels of intimacy - with self, with friends, family and lovers, and with the viewer – but which puts the body centre stage and can place too much emphasis on the superficial.

Nan Goldin's photographs memorialising her friend Greer Langton are truly touching, but leave the viewer wanting to know more about Greer's art and her personality rather than the sheer fact of her transsexuality. Lizzie Rowe's self-portrait has the virtue of being a work by, rather than about, a transgendered artist, though one reviewer found this tame depiction of her body so extreme that it was labelled "radical art". It's surprising that, in the 21st century, the mere existence of a transsexual woman has the power to shock.

The exhibition is rather devoid of the Scottish connection until reaching the annexe, where Kate Charlesworth and David Shenton's involving and funny comics, together with a series of films by Scots LGBT youth, add a more grounded touch. Next to this is the feedback section which includes an affecting book of comments: individual Scots, almost all young, who have felt moved, reached out to and less isolated by their gallery visit. This exhibition tries to be all things to all people and, surprisingly, succeeds at this impossible task, leaving any 'controversy' firmly in the eye of the beholder.

Gallery of Modern Art, Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow Mon - Wed 10am - 5pm, Thu 10am - 8pm, Sat 10am - 5pm, Fri & Sun 11am - 5pm