Sholem Krishtalka
They/Them

Sholem Krishtalka is an artist currently living in Berlin. Upcoming exhibitions include “Intimacy: Queer Art from Berlin and Beyond” at the Schwules Museum, Berlin.

A Letter from former TSG Curator SHOLEM KRISHTALKA

I brought this whole thing into the world. At the very least, I named it. If memory serves, I was asked to curate the as-yet-unnamed Pride exhibition at the Gladstone hotel as a kind of evasive conspiracy by RM Vaughan. By which I mean, Christina Zeidler had asked him to do it, and Richard, in all his wisdom, had no desire to be midwife to the treacherous task of birthing a queer-identity-themed exhibition in a city as tight-knit and (let’s be honest) as judgmental as Toronto. So, as sweetly and as gingerly as he could, Richard offered me the forceps.

 

I remember the first meeting we had about it, Christina, Richard and I, in the Gladstone Hotel bar. We shared our mutual distaste for tokenistic exhibitions that pandered to some middle-of-the-road notion of who we were supposed to be – these kinds of exhibitions that were like cheery gay straitjackets, big on cocks and short on critical self-examination. We threw around examples of what we didn’t want: I remember Richard and Christina saying, “no rainbows, no unicorns and no dicks.” We threw around example after grating example of things we knew we could do better than, and then, in the voice of a snotty child, I thought to myself, “jeez, Pride shows are so…gay.” And lo and behold, an exhibition was born.

 

From the get-go, I was determined to actually make exhibitions, by which I mean, I had no intention of pleasing anyone other than myself. In fact, I structured the first three That’s So Gay exhibitions with the deliberate intention of frustrating the public at large. The inaugural That’s So Gay was all about abstraction. (The sole exception to this rule was Will Munro. That cornerstone of queer life in Toronto had passed away that very Spring, and the city was mourning his loss. I couldn’t imagine my exhibition without him, and it became necessary to devote a room to his work, to have a place where people could be with him in some spiritual way). And otherwise, I put together a group of work by people who I always wanted to see in a Pride exhibition, but never did. As the opening date grew closer, so did the trepidation. Was my faith in the desire to see such an exhibition a misguided projection? Was I assuming an audience that wasn’t there?

 

To my elation, my faith was rewarded beyond my wildest expectations. The queers, and queer artists of Toronto were in fact hungry for just such an exhibition. It was a great success (if I do say so myself) and prompted yet more ideas of how to keep doing this project, how to keep nourishing this creature borne of frustration and a desire to be recognized.

 

The second exhibition was designed to push the boundaries of what people imagined “queer” – that embattled, overused and -abused word – to mean. I assembled a group of artists who didn’t explicitly identify as homosexual, but whose connection to queer art life in Toronto was inextricable and undeniable. We got some push-back from some fairly predictable corners (I remember reading some particularly personal and childish insults in the comments section of a promotional interview I did with Xtra magazine). But again, my faith was rewarded. The participating artists were overjoyed to be asked to contribute to a world to which they felt so close and connected, and I remember feeling the capability and power of my broader community.

 

My third and last That’s So Gay was devoted to the disruption of simplistic gender binaries, and therefore to trans representation. Back then, in 2012, it was taken as an obvious fact that a Pride show meant men making work about men and women making work about women, with no critical reflection on what those words meant or who might inhabit those implied bodies. It seems funny to admit this, eight years later, given all that has developed in trans issues and visibility in the past decade, but up until then, I certainly had never seen any kind of meaningful trans inclusion in any Pride show. (And as of 2020, work by and about trans people is (unbelievably) still almost invisible in the broader gallery and museum landscape.) Like all my other That’s So Gay shows, it was intended as a first step at expanding what was possible for Pride exhibitions. How well my good intentions landed is not for me to say.

 

So it became clear to me that the time had come to pass on this toddler of an exhibition series to more capable caretakers. I left Toronto, and That’s So Gay has incredibly become something of an institution, much to my delight. What began as a hope-against-hope contribution to a narrow, tokenistic (and, if I’m again being honest, tacky) exhibition trope has grown and thrived.

 

I would paraphrase old Virginia Slims ads and say, “we’ve come a long way, baby,” but the baby isn’t a baby anymore. Eleven years old! Soon to be a teenager. Mazel tov to all of the contributing artists, to all the dedicated curators who parented this tantrum child, and to the joys and pains of growth.