Documents from the Closet

August 5th-September 10th, 2023

Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Brooklyn, NY

curated by Samantha Box

For their ongoing project, Documents from the Closet, artist Ryan Patrick Krueger works with a personal collection of LGBTQ+ archives, vernacular photographs, and ephemera to tell a story about grief, loss, and courage. The artist weaves together two narratives, an unflinching effort to understand personal losses and identity through an exploration that begins in the historical oppression of gay men. 

In the gallery, Krueger props seven-foot-tall pine boxes precariously against the walls, balanced atop piles of dirt or sand. In size and shape, the boxes feel reminiscent of monuments, gravestones, or coffins. Each box contains a history lesson: formally elegant collages of monochromatic black-and-white shapes that Krueger punctuates with flourishes of pink, red, and the bright yellow of shipping envelopes. Collage is about finding new meaning in the juxtaposition of disparate elements. For Krueger, this process of isolating, truncating, or layering visual information allows for dialogue with the past while telling their own newer story.   

In 2011, Krueger began an eBay search using phrases such as “gay interest” and “vintage gay photograph” to hunt down photographs depicting what they describe as “tenderness, friendship, intimacy, and true love.” These photographs, including tintypes and photo booth portraits, show us men—now long gone—embracing or sometimes just mugging for the camera. Played out decades ago, these fleeting moments of connection and intimacy now feel furtive. Krueger allows us to see their process by including eBay receipts and the handwritten envelopes in which a network of other collectors of “gay interest” move and share these documents. We grieve these lives with the artist, who asks us to consider both the complexities of living a double life in pre-Stonewall America and our own human need for connection and community.

Krueger references many iconic gay artists, activists, and organizations here, including Act Up, David Deitcher, Essex Hemphill, Hal Fischer, Jonathan Ned Katz, Marlon Riggs, the Mattachine Society, and David Wojnarowicz. The artists also layers many symbols of the struggle over the documents, including a red tie, pink triangles, a locket containing the ashes of a childhood best friend, red boxing gloves, and clippings of classified ads from the pages of a defunct 1990’s LGBTQ+ newspaper. 

What emerges is that Krueger’s embrace of LGBTQ+  American history allows them to stand on a timeline that faces forward. Although each box feels final and heavy with grief, there is also a sense of triumph. In acknowledging those who’ve gone before, Krueger transforms the boxes into protest banners. Furtiveness falls away and in its place comes acceptance and yes, pride. As artist and AIDs activist David Wojnarowicz said, “To make the private into something public is an action that has terrific ramifications.”

Mary Lee Hodgens

Documents from the Closet, Brooklyn Rail, by Joel Danilewitz 

Using Format