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Explore queer historicity and life beyond gender binaries at two University Art Gallery exhibits

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The University Art Gallery’s fall exhibition features the work and ephemera of queer artists born decades apart, Andrey Avinoff and Greer Lankton. Both were mavericks of their eras, producing art challenging societal notions of gender and sexuality.

“By linking the exhibitions both thematically and visually, we hope to use Lankton’s and Avinoff’s art to explore and celebrate LGBTQIA+ artists of their respective time and broaden the discussion about gender and sexuality,” said Director and Curator Sylvia Rhor Samaniego (pictured above with Lankton’s ‘Sissy Satan’ (1990)).

"Andrey Avinoff: Fantastic Visions" at the gallery is a selection of previously unexhibited drawings and personal artifacts from the University Library System’s Archives and Special Collections holdings.

Avinoff, born in 1844, served as director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History from 1926 to 1945, but his passion for environmental science extended beyond his professional duties. He was an artist whose work — described by a curator as “effusive, fantastical, Symbolist watercolor paintings that express yearnings both mystical and homoerotic” — often incorporated elements of nature.

The word fantastical could be applied to Lankton’s art, too. Born in 1958, Lankton is known for autobiographical pieces reflecting her trans identity and pop-culture obsessions, often incorporating images of otherworldly beings. On display at Pitt is a collection curated from the Mattress Factory Museum’s holdings by Isaiah Bertagnolli, a fourth-year PhD student in the Department of History of Art and Architecture.

Lankton’s dolls, self-portraiture, sketches and sculpture showcased in "Greer Lankton: Science Fictions" focuses on her integration of science fiction as a way of envisioning a future beyond a gender binary.

A place to learn, feel welcome and just be 

In concurrence with the exhibits, the University Art Gallery is providing free, hands-on workshops and curator talks to deepen visitors' appreciation of the art.

The first event, Bodies/Magic, included a tour of the Lankton exhibit, a conversation led by the University Counseling Center to help participants unpack what they viewed and a doll-making workshop.

“Making things can be a powerful way to process thoughts and emotions, and making a doll focuses you on the body, on physicality, in a way that's directly connected to ideas that Lankton was exploring,” said Erik Schuckers, manager of communications and programming in the Center for Creativity, who led the event.

“Creating your own figure lets you access and explore your feelings about bodies, gender, and how you understand, create and re-create yourself,” he said.

Jessica Ham, a Pitt post-baccalaureate student and workshop attendee, found Lankton’s art to be expressions of bravery, especially her sculptures grappling with body insecurity and eating disorders.

Lankton, who died in 1996, may have benefited from social media, she said.

“I think a lot of times when people are as vulnerable as Lankton on social media and share their art, they maybe can find a community of support and be exposed to people who were feeling exactly the way that she did,” Ham said.

Rhor hopes the fall exhibition signals that the space is welcoming for all, the kind of place that perhaps was not readily accessible to Avinoff and Lankton.

“I envision it not just as a space to view art or to participate in events and programs but also as a place where people feel comfortable enough just to visit and rest or work – a place to learn but also a place just to be and where they feel welcome, represented and where they have a voice,” she said. “We hope this show opens the door for our LGBTQ+ community to experience that.”

See for yourself

Visit the University Art Gallery, located in the Frick Fine Arts Building, from 4-10 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment.

View "Greer Lankton: Science Fictions" now through Dec. 9, and "Andrey Avinoff: Fantastic Visions," Oct. 21-Dec. 9.

Attend the fall exhibition opening reception from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20. The event is free and open to the public, and light food and refreshments will be provided.


— Nichole Faina, photography by Aimee Obidzinski