Museums
Museums
Museums

Pride and prejudice: museums celebrate the decriminalisation of homosexuality

Institutions across England plan shows to mark 50 years since passage of landmark Sexual Offences Act

by Hannah McGivern  |  6 February 2017
Pride and prejudice: museums celebrate the decriminalisation of homosexuality
Tate Britain is showing Oscar Wilde's portrait, sold after his 1895 trail for "gross indecency" left him bankrupt (Photo: © William Andrews Clark Memorial Library)
Museums across the UK are preparing exhibitions to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, the legislation that partially decriminalised male homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967.

In London, the National Portrait Gallery will present a special display on the city’s gay scene in the 1980s (David Gwinnutt: Before We Were Men, due to open 9 March) while the first major exhibition dedicated to queer British art is to open at Tate Britain (Queer British Art 1861-1967, 5 April-1 October). With sections focusing on Oscar Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” in 1895 and the tangled love lives of the Bloomsbury group, the show spans more than a century, from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act. The cell door behind which Wilde was famously imprisoned at Reading Gaol is to go on show beside his portrait, which was sold off after the legal fees for his trial left him bankrupt.

Tate Britain is showing Oscar Wilde's portrait, while the National Portrait Gallery presents David Gwinnutt's Trojan, Leigh Bowery (1983) (Photos: © William Andrews Clark Memorial Library; © David Gwinnutt/National Portrait Gallery, London)

The British Museum will take the long view in Desire Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories (11 May-15 October). The show of objects drawn from the collection—from a Roman coin with the head of Antinous, the emperor Hadrian’s male lover, to a 1990s deck of cards decorated with Japanese drag queens—will have a lasting legacy through updated labels in the permanent galleries, a spokeswoman says.

In Manchester, the People’s History Museum is working with nine community curators to document 200 years of British activism (Never Going Underground: the Fight for LGBT+ Rights, 25 February-3 September). “This is not an easy story to tell because so little of the materials and narrative is formally catalogued,” says Catherine O’Donnell, the museum’s engagement and events officer. To source material, “we had to reach out to an unprecedented number of museums and galleries, but also directly to individuals,” she says.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery will examine how artists responded to decriminalisation in an exhibition co-organised with the Arts Council Collection (Coming Out: Art and Culture 1967-2017, 28 July-5 November). The gallery’s curator of British art, Charlotte Keenan, says the institution is also working on a two-year research project called Pride and Prejudice that will “make queer British art and its importance to art history permanently visible in the gallery’s displays”.

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