Gay Gotham

A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York peels back the metropolis's rich LGBT history

It would not be amiss to say that New York has been one of the seminal cities for LGBT culture over the past century, in times both of secrecy and tolerance. A magnet for artists and writers as well as the largest canvas under which to hide, the story of New York tells the story of America's queer history.

Gay Gotham, a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York looks back over bisexual, gay, lesbian and transexual lives in the metropolis, from subterranean scenes to prominent figures. From the bohemian "pansy craze" of the 1910s and 1920s via Broadway, the Stonewall riots, Fire Island, disco and the HIV epidemic, it tracks the movement from illicitness and marginalisation to the present openness and equality.

The artworks, writings and ephemera of well-known queer figures such as Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein and Andy Warhol, along with gay rights activists like Mae West, have been juxtaposed with the lesser-known, while the relationships between often unexpected worthies has been explored.

Exhibits include the original designs for West Side Story, which was created by an entirely gay creative team, and Bernstein’s personal copy of Romeo and Juliet, which he turned into a musical. There is art by the likes of the painter Richard Bruce Nugent, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and Harmony Hammond, a leading figure in the development of feminist art in the 1970s.

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of events, including a panel discussion on the 1970s rise of homoerotic photography, an in-depth curator tour for educators and a talk about the ungendering of fashion. An accompanying book has been penned by the curator Donald Albrecht.