Born Hannah Gluckstein (1895-1978), this 20th century artist is now recognised as a trailblazer of gender fluidity – something not acknowledged during her lifetime. This exploration of gender, and Gluck herself, is the subject of a new exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality between men in the United Kingdom, and the Museum has been undertaking a diverse LGBTQ programme since July. The exhibition is part of a larger project Wear It Out, a partnership with The Centre for Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion, exploring the cultural heritage of dress of LGBTQ communities in Sussex (1917- 2017).
The idea surrounding Gluck: Art & Identity was to create a queer space, where everyone feels welcome. With Brighton being such a diverse, unique and extravagant city, as well as Gluck living just outside the city in Steyning, it is a great place for an exploration of gender and identity to be exhibited. Gluck herself, born into a wealthy Jewish family, ran away to Cornwall with her fellow school friends during World War I. Mixing with painters, and sketched by Alfred Munnings smoking a pipe in a Romastyle dress, she soon adopted the name ‘Gluck’. Everything that Gluck represented subverted conventional traditions of the female, undertaking a masculine identity incorporating men’s tailoring, barber-cut short hair and a mannish demeanour.
Becoming well-known in the inter-war years for her portraits, landscapes, seascapes and stage scenes. She later became acclaimed for her floral paintings, like The Devil’s Alter, 1932, which is one of the few paintings not held by a private collector. As such, many Gluck paintings are today seldom exhibited. This public exhibition brings together all her key works, in the traditional tree-tiered frame developed by the artist herself.
On entering the exhibit, there is an investigative scene, surrounding Gluck’s lovers across her life. Going round, there are nine fragments of the exhibition, exploring elements close to her, including relationships, family and flowers. There are also four interventions which act as a voice of Gluck with segments from her writings and notes, offering a visual narrative. Alongside will be a new, accompanying book with contributions from all the curators as well as other Gluck enthusiasts. Not only does the exhibition showcase her portraits, Gluck: Art & Identity blurs the boundaries of a traditional fashion exhibit, whilst signalling elements of a traditional exhibit. Fans and enthusiasts of Gluck, are in for a surprise when exploring the identity and fashion segment of the exhibition.
Gluck: Art & Identity runs at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery until Sun 11 Mar 2018. An accompanying book is also available via Yale University Press.