In the 1970s, Manhattan-based artist Stephen Varble gained infamy for his gender-confounding costume performances and anti-commercial disruptions of galleries, banks, and boutiques. He retreated from public view in 1978, focusing instead on an epic, unfinished video, Journey to the Sun, until his death in 1984. Ribald, complex, and unorthodox, the video features elaborately costumed performers in a surrealist fable of a messianic martyr. Drawing on the legacies of Jack Smith, Greta Garbo (with whom he identified), and his own autobiography, Journey to the Sun also absorbs Varble’s previous performance characters and costumes into a self-created environment of found objects and street trash. Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History David Getsy, curator of Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, presents a selection of excerpts from the four surviving hours of Journey to the Sun and discusses Varble’s transformative approach to gender.
1978–83, USA, U-matic video to digital file, ca 60 min + discussion
Presented by David Getsy
Stephen Varble (1946–84) was a performance artist, playwright, fashion designer, and video artist. He studied at the University of Kentucky as an undergraduate and earned his MFA in film directing from Columbia University. In his first years in New York, he was associated with Fluxus and created a number of collaborative works with his then-partner Geoffrey Hendricks. In the mid-1970s, he became infamous for his Costume Tours of New York, which involved impromptu street performances and costume sculptures made from found objects. The 2018 retrospective at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first exhibition dedicated to Varble’s work in more than three decades.
David Getsy is an art historian, art writer, and curator. His books include Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (2015) and Queer (2016). His other recent curatorial projects are Jared Buckhiester: Love Me Tender, a 10-year survey of drawings, for the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division in New York (2017) and an exhibition of Stephen Varble’s xerographic prints for Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky (2018). Getsy holds a BA from Oberlin College and a PhD from Northwestern University. He has received fellowships and awards from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Queen Mary University of London, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Clark Art Institute, and the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, among others. He teaches at SAIC, where he is the Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History.