Queer Thoughts was founded by artists Luis Miguel Bendaña and Sam Lipp in 2012 in a diminutive apartment on Chicago’s Lower West Side. The gallery recently moved to a larger space in lower Manhattan. Flash Art talked with its founders about this new opportunity.
What inspired the move and what will you do with all that space?
After seven years in Chicago, we were ready to expand beyond the milieu of the university we attended (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago). We love Chicago but neither of us wanted to die in the Midwest. New York has been an adjustment, but we’re really excited to be here and showcase our artists in our new “big space.” Honestly, it is still so small. The greatest difference between the two locations isn’t really the size but that the old space was in our apartment and our new space is on Broadway in Manhattan. It is exciting and far beyond what we had in mind when we first began the gallery.
One would imagine that in the comparatively small art scene in Chicago there would be a certain sense of community and intimacy, as opposed to the competitive individualism of New York. Is there any truth to this? Do you feel like you traded community for centrality?
Both art scenes are similar in that they are constantly repopulating and redefining themselves in relation to the institutions there — so our temporary tenure in Chicago is a common aspect of the art ecosystem there. The presence of the market is definitely stronger in New York, which informs a lot of what happens here and how people behave. But just because Chicago has a more insular community doesn’t necessarily entail that it was more supportive. There are supportive and unsupportive micro-communities in both cities. We have experienced both. The advantage of living in New York is the incomparable access to art, to artists and to institutions, and as artists ourselves that is inspiring. Likewise, we are grateful for the time we spent in Chicago. There is a great community there and a unique sensibility, which definitely informed our project. Chicago has always supported grassroots initiatives, and there are still many exciting things happening there like New Capital and Night Club and more recently Born Nude, Beautiful Gallery and Boyfriends, among others.
You’ve frequently used the term “post-identity” to characterize the work that interests you. What does that mean exactly?
It means a lot of things and maybe it means nothing, but the term allowed us to define ourselves in relation to what we were not. When we began the gallery in 2012 we wrote on our website that we promote “a post-identity agenda,” which seemed like a funny incongruity to designate ambiguity as our political or aesthetic objective. But perhaps the term invokes a certain indeterminacy of language, which is of interest to us and relevant to the work we show. Choosing the name “Queer Thoughts” was another instance of this indeterminacy, used as a political strategy to undermine a certain concretization of identity. We prefer slipperiness.
Before you opened the New York space, you spent almost a year globetrotting, having shut the Chicago space at the end of 2014: art fairs, organizing exhibitions at galleries here and there, and a show at three locations in Nicaragua. What was the story behind that exhibition?
Miguel’s family is from Nicaragua and it has always been an aspiration of his to participate in the community there as an artist. It was important for us to organize an exhibition in Nicaragua at that time, with the construction of the new Canal de Nicaragua looming (which is now in the midst of construction). This new canal is displacing populations and destroying rainforests, and will connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake and source of freshwater in Central America. Of course this is a complicated situation — the dreams of urbanization and industry to prosper in an impoverished nation versus the preservation of an almost untouched volcanic landscape. After we organized that exhibition we met Oliver Kandt, who is the new curator of the Nicaraguan Biennial upcoming in February 2016. We will be exhibiting works ourselves and organizing a small section of the Biennial at the Palacio Nacional in Managua.
Could you tell us about qt.pdf?
The qt.pdf was a way to create content to be specifically experienced in digital form — in contrast to the exhibitions themselves, which we always conceived of as inherently experiential in person. It is just an extra thing. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass for us and the artists, but it’s quite nice to go back and look at them later. We are in the process of redesigning the format to coincide with our new location. Oliver Apte is doing the new design and we will be releasing the second volume soon. Stay tuned for that!
What’s coming up for the gallery?
We are currently preparing for NADA Miami Beach, which will be our first participation in a Miami fair. In February we will be organizing a section in the Nicaraguan Biennial, and to coincide with that we will be opening an exhibition at our new second location, Queer Thoughts, Nicaragua. We’re also excited for our upcoming solo exhibitions in New York with Siera Hyte, Chelsea Culp, Diamond Stingily and Chloe Seibert.