Cruising in the Shadows: Uncovering Secret LGBTQ+ Culture in New York City

curated by Matthew Terrell

Robert Sherer, SF or NYC?, Wood Burning and Wood Stain
  • This information will be updated.
"Cruising in the Shadows" uncovers a vital but often overlooked aspect of LGBTQ+ history--the culture of "cruising" in New York City from the 1960s to today. Cruising involves seeking sexual partners in public spaces, often using secret visual codes to express queer desire. It began as an act of defiance, a search for authentic connections, and a celebration of LGBTQ+ identity in an otherwise unfriendly time for queerness.

The history of cruising will be presented via maps, news articles, and historic documents from the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. This installation will tell the story of the destruction of Forrest Hills park in Queens in 1969. A week before Stonewall happened, a group of ax-wielding vigilantes cut down dozens of trees in this public park which was known to be a gay cruising area. This story, along with an examination of cruising sites over the decades will demonstrate the long history of cruising happening in plain sight.

The exhibition will feature a section dedicated to the Hanky Code, a complex system of colored handkerchiefs worn by queer people to signify their sexual desires. The first published lesbian hanky code was in 1979 two individuals in 'Drummer' Magazine. This exhibition will feature their printed work with the Samois Collective, a lesbian-feminist BDSM organization. Their take on cruising will be both artifact and art when their published work is combined with a wall size display of colored hankies and their corresponding meanings.

Artwork by Robert Sherer will present sexual exploration as central to queerness. Sherer?s drawings feature All-American cartoon figures out of a 1950s comic book covertly engaging in queer behaviors in colorful, cheerful settings which reframe queer desire as a natural part of the American experience.

One of the stark realities of cruising is that it contributed to the AIDS epidemic which decimated the queer community. The exhibition will feature a 12' x 12' AIDS Quilt dedicated to the staff and patrons of "The Saint," a legendary queer dance club. During the AIDS epidemic, The Saint hosted live sex shows to educate viewers about safe sex.

Finally, photographs by Thomas Roma will depict a modern-day view of cruising. Roma creates tender, loving photos of Black men cruising in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. The artist walks through ?The Vale of Cashmere? an overlooked part of the park well known for cruising; he asks men of color who are cruising if he can take their portrait. Roma's work shows that queer people of color often don't have safe spaces to connect with each other, and that cruising is a means to find authentic connections they can't access in everyday life.

As technology and social attitudes have evolved, the practice of cruising has faded, making it crucial to preserve and explore this cultural phenomenon. Through a carefully curated collection of artwork and historical artifacts, the exhibition will foster dialogue about the evolution of LGBTQ+ culture and the lasting impact of this unique period in New York City's history.
Matthew Terrell writes, photographs, and creates videos in Atlanta. His work often centers on queer history, particularly in the South. Previous works include Atlanta's HIV+ Population Now at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, The Hate Shield at Atlanta Pride, and Living Room, San Francisco, 1986 an apexart exhibition. Terrell works as an Assistant Professor of Communication at Kennesaw State University.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.