Friday, June 26, 2009

Gay Icons at the National Portrait Gallery

Will Young and Nelson Mandela will stand side by side in a new exhibition of 'gay icons'. The singer and the former South African president are among 60 figures chosen for the National Portrait Gallery's show.

Gay Icons explores gay social and cultural history through the unique personal insights of ten high–profile gay figures, who have selected their historical and modern icons. The chosen icons, who may or may not be gay themselves, have all been important to each selector, having influenced or inspired them.

The 10 curators are: Labour peers Waheed Alli and Chris Smith; the chief executive of gay campaign group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill; comedian and presenter Sandi Toksvig; actor Sir Ian McKellen; musician Sir Elton John; tennis champion Billie Jean King; and writers Alan Hollinghurst, Jackie Kay and Sarah Waters. Each chose six icons.

Their only constraint was that choices had to be photographic portraits. This creates a timeframe of about 150 years - the period in which homosexuality gradually became accepted and made legitimate, the gallery said.

One of Lord Smith's choices was Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science whose career ended when he was "outed" and criminally prosecuted at a time when homosexuality was still illegal. And Sir Ian chose Harvey Milk, the first openly gay, elected politician in California whose life has just been depicted on film in an Oscar-winning performance by Sean Penn.

The choices provide a fascinating range of inspiring figures – some very famous, some heroic, others relatively unknown. Spanning the worlds of entertainment, art, music, literature, sport and politics they include artists Francis Bacon and David Hockney, civil rights campaigner Harvey Milk, writers Quentin Crisp, Joe Orton, Daphne Du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith and Walt Whitman, composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, musicians k.d. lang, Will Young and Village People, entertainers Ellen DeGeneres, Kenneth Williams and Lily Savage, and Nelson Mandela and Diana, Princess of Wales.

A fully illustrated book accompanies the exhibition, featuring over seventy striking photographs, an introduction by Sandi Toksvig and an essay by Richard Dyer.

Gay Icons
Opening Times: 2 July to 18 October 2009. Open daily 10:00-18:00. Thursday-Friday until 21:00.
National Portrait Gallery
Trafalgar Square
London WC2H 0HE
Tickets: £5/£4.50/£4, free for Gallery Supporters

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