“Brighton and Hove,” the new Object Stories trail at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery tells us, “is often referred to as the gay capital of the UK.” With that status in mind, this new trail explores objects in the museum with a link to the history of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Trans) community. The re-discover of LGBT history seems -somewhat ironically- “in” at the moment, with the British Museum producing A Little Gay History and their own trail of LGBT objects.
As you can see, Brighton’s trail is so much more *fabulous* than the BM’s offerings. And yes, my copy of A Little Gay History has been signed by the author.
Working, as I do, just around the corner from the Brighton Museum I decided to discover the stories one lunchtime. So I pick up a trail from Reception and begin the adventure!
The only question: where to start? Do I follow the trail starting with Object 1, or with the one closest to the entrance?
I plump for the “whichever object is closest to me” approach, partly because I was pressed for time but also partly due to me not being able to work out the logic of the prescribed route (why do I have to pass 6,7,9 and 10 to get to 1?).
Starting, not quite at the beginning, at number 6 on the list, we discover a vase from Turner Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry (who you might remember from his Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman exhibition at the British Museum). Perry’s cross-dressing alter ego Claire earns him a place on this trail. The vase is stunning, with its oranges and blacks reminding me of all those Ancient Greek vases in the British Museum.
Number 7, like Number 8 are objects that continue this cross-dressing themes; with paintings by female artists who dressed and in the case of Number 7 (Hannah “Gluck” Gluckstein) lived as men. Although Gluck’s The Devil’s Altar and Rosa Bonheur’s Shephard of the Pyrenees are nice enough paintings, the museum could have used this trail to tell the remarkable story of Phoebe Hessel; a local woman who lived her life as a man and served 17 years in the army! She’s buried in St. Nicholas’ churchyard and you can visit her grave and discover her story yourself.
Moving on, to Numbers 9 and 10, we are presented with 2 more paintings, whose LGBT connections are only apparent once you read the notes in the trail. Number 9 is a painted panel painted by a member of the Bloomsbury Group.
Number 10 is – cheekily – a three parter:
- The painting that is officially listed as Number 10 is Glyn Philpot’s Acrobats Waiting to Rehearse but it also encompasses…
- The fabulous statue used on the trail’s cover and…
- A loving cup engraved with the initials of the artist – Glyn Philpot- and his lover, Vivian Forbes. Taking a break from following the trail I locate the lovely Loving Cup. It is right by object Number 6 and puts me in mind of the British Museum’s Warren Cup. Can you see the “V” for Vivian?
Back on the trail, and we come to Number 1 (which is perhaps where I should have started but it’s too late to worry about that now).
Number 1 is another stunning vase, the Palestre Vase, Palestre referring to the “palaestra” the Ancient Greek wrestling schools. The vase celebrates the male form with the artist (Rene Lalique) using these ancient Greek wrestlers as a respectable excuse to depict the naked athletes.
Some extra light would have really made the figures stand out, but nonetheless, it’s a beautiful piece from the 1930s.
Brighton, as mentioned above, has a reputation for being the UK’s gay capital and every year it hosts one of the largest Pride parades and celebrations in the country. It wasn’t until 1991, when the parade was re-launched, that the event attracted thousands of visitors. The initial march in 1973 “attracted only a small proportion of the town’s gay population” according to the guide. This brings us nicely on to Object Number 2 in our trail: Pride memorabilia.
The last Object I come to is Number 5 on the trail, and we’re back with ceramics. Not just any ceramics, but ceramics featuring that most British of institutions, the Monarchy – William III and Queen Anne to be precise. As these monarchs are neither Tudors nor Queen Victoria, they tend to be left off the school curriculum, which means no one really knows who they are (I may or may not be generalising here).
We don’t know for sure if William III and Anne were indeed historic homosexuals, but some cite their closeness to same-sex associates as evidence that they might have been. Let’s face it – who can resist a royal scandal?
So, that was a trail done in a lunchbreak.
I think that because I was pressed for time, I didn’t really get the most I could out of it (I didn’t even see where the QR codes would take me!). However, it was an interesting look at objects I wouldn’t necessarily look at and it did reveal some hidden histories so I guess it does the job. I think I’ll go back again to have a closer look when I’m not so pressed for time.