Cover image of the review
Installation view of QUEER: Stories from the NGV Collection on display from 10 March - 21 August 2022 at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Peter Bennetts

Queer: Stories From the NGV Collection

13 Aug 2022
National Gallery of Victoria | NGV International 10 Mar - 21 Aug 2022

David McDiarmid’s 1978 artwork Gay Dollar, featured in the first gallery of Queer: Stories from the NGV Collection, contains an unassuming homespun Dymo label that slyly states, “what gays do in the privacy of their own homes is their own business … big business”. This cutting line, rich with ironic humour, is collaged alongside an advertisement for a company that specialises in accessing the affluent, yet clandestine queer market. You could easily miss the detail. No reference is made to McDiarmid’s commentary in the accompanying didactic, and amidst the National Gallery of Victoria’s dense collection hang such moments are easy to pass by. The advertisement in Gay Dollar is a haunting early precedent to the familiar rhetoric often deployed to appease conservatives, that is, speaking to the market value of gay people to make their presence acceptable. (I think here of commentary during Australia’s recent plebiscite for same-sex marriage.) And, despite McDiarmid’s activism and art making, which brought LGBT issues to the fore, Gay Dollar expresses a striking ambivalence, even critical distaste, towards recognition and all it promises. Also incorporating dollar bills printed with upside-down pink triangles of the kind that identified gay men in Nazi concentration camps (lesbians were identified by an inverted black triangle), Gay Dollar succinctly highlights that queer visibility is a double-edged sword that can easily be weaponised by both the market and the state.

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