Creating Good-Enough Containers: Reflections on Queerness in Community-Based Museum Education

Artist and museum educator Kerry Downey reflects on making space for queerness within and outside of institutions through participatory art making.

Tell Us Plainly What You Mean

Curated by Tatiana Istomina and Becky Brown
January 12 – February 10, 2019
Opening Reception: January 12th, 6-8PM
Gallery Hours: Saturdays, 12 - 6PM or by appointment
Aquarius Studios | 1116-A Wyckoff Avenue | Ridgewood, NY

Annette Cords, Louise Bourgeois, Becky Brown, Kerry Downey, Joey Fauerso, Tatiana Istomina, Michelle Rosenberg, Bill Santen, Irgin Sena, Catalina Viejo Lopez de Roda 

Every time one man says to another, "Tell us plainly what you mean" he assumes the infallibility of language… Whenever, on the other hand, a man rebels…  says he cannot explain what he means… he has seen into the real nature of language. For the truth is that language is not a scientific thing at all, but wholly an artistic thing, a thing invented by hunters, and killers, and such artists long before science was dreamed of. 
— G. K. Chesterton

Who has not suffered the limitations of language—its inability to express the nuance of our thoughts and feelings? Today especially, language appears complicit in disrupting communication between social groups and whole nations, blurring boundaries between truth and lies. When natural language fails and rational discourse seems impossible, artists come forward with alternative means to translate the subtler shades of our emotions and perceptions into shape and form.


BAM / Moving Body, Moving Study

​Moving Body, Moving Study @ BAM
Co-curated with Rachel Valinsky
Publications by Wendy’s Subway

This fall (2018) Next Wave Art presents an exhibition of time- and movement-based work that explores the body’s capacity for remembering. In Moving Body, Moving Study, we consider the ways in which artists score, archive, or otherwise embed gestures and movement to relay accumulated experience, trauma, and historical and cultural memory. Engaging the BAM Fisher Lower Lobby as a space for reflection and refuge, this unique program features three screenings rotated monthly, readings and public events, and newly commissioned print publications.

Kevin Jerome Everson, Jibade-Khalil Huffman and Gloria Maximo are on view through Jan 6. Octiber featured artists Patty Chang, Freya Powell, and Sable Elyse Smith. November featured artists Lauren Bakst, Jesse Chun, Kerry Downey and Joanna Seitz.

How to see in the dark

Image: Kerry Downey, How to see in the dark, 2017, video still. Courtesy of the artist

How to see in the dark
Cuchifritos Gallery
Priyanka Dasgupta and Chad Marshall, Kerry Downey, Baseera Khan, and Tuesday Smillie
Curated by Christian Camacho-Light
Opening Reception: Friday, October 26 from 6-8p
On View: October 26 through December 9, 2018
Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 12-6pm
Location: 120 Essex Street NY, NY 10002 (inside Essex Street Market)
SCREENING​: Kerry Downey video "How to see in the dark," 
November 26, 7:30pm • 466 Grand Street
Presented in partnership with Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space, Curated by 2017-18 AIRspace Curator in Residence, Abrons Arts Center 

How to see in the dark looks to artists who share an interest in the politics of visibility. Toward these concerns, these artists make use of aesthetic and conceptual strategies that privilege the opaque, encrypted, or clandestine. Works in the exhibition negotiate tensions between representation and abstraction, assimilation and interference, action and withdrawal, mastery and unknowing. Folding into darkness, the exhibition invests in improvisational choreographies of refusal and failure, finding respite in the dissolution of figure-ground, near and far, and the thwarting of an easy read.

Partial Views


Opening reception: March 2nd, 6PM-9PM, with performance by Dean Moss, Samita Sinha, and Grey Macmurray at 6:30PM
On view: March 2nd - April 2nd, 2018
Kerry Downey, Dean Moss, Saar Shemesh, Elizabeth Tubergen, Erica Wessmann

The Spomenik are public monuments unique to the former Yugoslavia and to its dream of pluralist authoritarianism, but as forms that reify paradox at the scale of the body, the relevance of these monuments persists. “Partial Views” is an exhibition project that explores their persistence.

Queer Tropics

Image: Kerry Downey, Territory I, 2013, graphite rubbing from hot glue on paper, 24x36 in

Queer Tropics
NOVEMBER 16, 2017 - FEBRUARY 25, 2018

Pelican Bomb presents “Queer Tropics,” a group exhibition exploring tropical aesthetics and landscapes as they relate to sexuality, the body, exoticization, and tourism, and the show is particularly interested in how these themes play out between the United States, Europe, and the Global South. Included artists are Ash Arder, Kerry Downey, Madeline Gallucci, Victoria Martinez, Joiri Minaya, Carlos Motta, Pacifico Silano, and Adrienne Elise Tarver.

/what are we but lying single surface?/

Image: Kerry Downey, Nothing but net, 2016, monotype, 11.5 x 17, printed with Marina Ancona / 10 Grand Press

/What are we but lying single surface?/
The Alice, Seattle
Opening reception on October 14, 2017 from 6-9pm

Saturdays, October 14- November 18, 2017 

An exhibition of prints, photography, poetry and video. Artists-writers-activists-teachers abandon the exclusive, disciplinary lies that mark territories of the visual arts and poetry, exploring themes of identity, place, family, language, collaboration, and self-making in their own terms.


Image: Kerry Downey, Nothing but net, 2016, still from single channel video, time: 14:36

Nothing but Net
May, 2017
CAVE, Detroit

Kerry Downey’s first solo show, titled “Nothing but net,” is a multidisciplinary project that explores their relationship between self and other and their movement between interior and exterior landscapes. Consisting of a large video projection and series of monotypes, this process-driven and experimental work contains many other mediums: painting, drawing, collage, performance, and text. This is a project that questions the boundaries of containment, what are the possibilities and limitations of a medium, of the body, and of visual and verbal languages.

Backstage with Kerry Downey and Ellie Krakow


Exposed Suture

Image: Kerry Downey, Nothing but net, still from single channel video; 14:33

Exposed Suture
Rond-Point Projects
Curated by Natasha Marie Llorens
February 16 - March 04, 2017 
Jody Wood, Kambui Olujimi, Kerry Downey, Sable E. Smith

You don’t know. You don’t know what she means. You don’t know what response she expects from you nor do you care. For all your previous understandings, suddenly incoherence feels violent. You both experience this cut, which she keeps insisting is a joke, a joke stuck in her throat, and like any other injury, you watch it rupture along its suddenly exposed suture.    Claudia Rankine, Citizen, 42.

Claudia Rankine’s book makes legible the psychological injury racism inflicts. She argues that yes there are fully conscious policies to maintain the invisibility of non-white, non-normative histories and to undermine the dignity of non-white, non-normative bodies — but there are also a thousand injuries to such bodies that fall below the threshold of consciousness. Injuries that would fall out of political discourse altogether were it not for writers like Rankine.

This exhibition is organized around her insight: that the political subject, or the citizen, is as vulnerable to psychological violence as she is to more “direct” or “physical” forms of violence. The work included in this project pictures the moment of injury as one in which the distinction between “political” violence and inchoate “personal” forms of violence—a badly turned joke, a misspoken pronoun, an off-hand gesture, a misrecognition—is destabilized.



Image: Kerry Downey and E.E. Ikeler

Kerry Downey and E.E. Ikeler
January 27 - February 19

a viewer views with their whole body
(she had a queer feeling they were being watched)
                                                            an artwork will change if you look at it long enough.
language makes shapes (shapes make language too).
proposal:         let’s consider visuality alongside visibility, and treat pleasure like a value
                        let’s describe the ways an image is ethically entangled
                        let’s use language to defigure, rename, and unknow
~surface is a site of tension and relief
(they weren’t sure where their sameness ended and their difference began)
meaning is ephemeral, and that’s why we grew to love it.



Sinister Feminism

Image: Kerry Downey, Phantom Bounce, 2013, monotype, 11x15 in; printed with Marina Ancona/10 Grand Press

Sinister Feminism
Curated with Piper Marshall 
with Lola Kramer

A.I.R. Gallery
January 5 - February 5, 2017

Participating Artists
Lucas Berd, Dora Budor, ceramics club (cc), Kerry Downey, Dolores Furtado, Nicolás Guagnini, Caitlin Keogh, Chelsea Rae Klein, Lizzy Marshall, Whitney Oldenburg, B. Quinn, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Torbjørn Rødland, Karin Schneider and Leigh Ledare, Bailey Scieszka

Sinister Feminism. We fortify veneer into armor. We appropriate from misogynist sources. We exceed the cinematic ideal. We vibrate the sound of the city. We endure. Our physicalizations we know are transgressive. We are a halation of line. We throw shadow across the page. We teach the tongues of the past. We mock the habit of metonymy. We transmit the sense of hysterics. We smell. We hurl what we are required to withstand: our bodies, our selves. We are trying to reach you. 
We wildly grin.

Read the curatorial statement here. 

Age Lines

Image: Kerry Downey, Fishing with Angela, still from single channel video, 2016

Age Lines
Curated by Staci bu Shea

Casco, Utrecht, Netherlands
Nov 20, 2016-Jan 29, 2017

Acknowledging the duality of its referents—as both relational connections and skin wrinkles developed over time—Age Lines examines relations to aging in and across ages.

Experiences associated with age are ubiquitous yet varied and regenerative. Age Lines is the result of thinking about the age-old subject of age and a starting point for considering how relations are born, maintained, and renewed while aging. This exhibition is a humble gesture toward creating a site for and sense of age relations where fragility, dependency, and transmission are foregrounded.

The project presents the work of Kerry Downey, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Ilyana Ritchie, and Mia You, as well as objects contributed by individuals near to the project’s development in Utrecht.

In particular, Age Lines highlights mentor-mentee relationships, the legacy of Black and Third World feminist publishing in the US, and intergenerational collaborative practices. The exhibition includes works of art, commissions, exercises, and anecdotes which pull from lineages, cycles, and different forms of measuring age and the passing of time.

ROT: Compost vs Surgery

Image: Kerry Downey, Fishing with Angela, still from single channel video, 2016

SAT DEC 3 2016

ROT: Compost vs. Surgery is a video and audio screening that links a tradition of visceral painterly physicality to urgent contemporary conversations about bodies, aging, identity and health.

When body time meets linear time, ROT demands progress. Rotten things can be either integrated in a healthy way (compost and renewal) or excised and burned (surgery). To ROT is to inhabit a critical bodily process in the midst of an infinite, unresolvable trajectory. ROT gathers momentum in cycles of attack, sustain, decay and release. ROT implies hope in survival, in coping and in stasis.
In ROT, artists combine video, sound, performance and multimedia poetry to revisit the Abstract Expressionists, Vienna Actionists, post-minimalist artists, and feminist performance artists. Proximity to SAM’s 
Big Picture: Art After 1945 exhibition raises the question: are ROT artists composting the canon, or are these works a surgical redirection of art history?

Indira Allegra (Oakland)Kerry Downey (NYC)C. Davida Ingram (Seattle)On A Clear Day (NYC)Catherine Telford-Keogh (Toronto)tzuriel (San Diego and Seattle)Urban Death Project (Seattle)

Read My Lips

Image: Kerry Downey, Nothing but net, 2016, still from single channel video, time: 14:36

Read My Lips
Loren Britton and Kerry Downey
Curated by Ashton Cooper

Opening Reception: November 5, 2016, 6-9pm
Oct 28-Dec 18, 2016
Knockdown Center

Read My Lips brings together recent paintings and sculpture made by Loren Britton and video and prints by Kerry Downey. Although working in different media, both artists tangle with representing marginalized bodies, problems of language, and the complexity of subject formation in a binary world.

Downey’s textured monotypes (printed with Marina Ancona/10 Grand Press), hang alongside Britton’s anthropomorphic plush sculpture and large four-by-five foot paintings, which sit on blocks. Downey’s projected video piece is paired with several more of Britton’s sculptures — these made to be used as seating.vBoth series of work are grounded in a consideration of embodiment. The exhibition title takes the mouth specifically as a site from which to examine some of the central issues of this show: It is a source of language, an entrance to the interior, and a site of desire.

These artists also explore a politic of non-visibility through languages of abstraction. Refusing visibility is an important tenet of the constellation of art practices that have been termed Queer Abstraction, a moniker not without its own limitations.  While many queer and feminist artists — Harmony Hammond, Louise Fishman, Joan Snyder, to name just a few — have worked in abstraction since the 1970s, a new generation of queer, genderqueer, and transgender artists are taking up the style to deal with issues of gender, and in this case, to talk about the body without explicitly signifying it.  In his recent research, art historian David J. Getsy has asked, “What happens when the body is invoked but not imaged?”

In such a mode of image-making, abstract art exceeds binary constraint; the body is posited as a catalog of sensory experiences and a place of flux. In Britton and Downey’s hands, abstraction becomes a space of infinite possibility where multiplicity is the principal feature. The work plunges us into indeterminacy and makes us step outside of prevailing modes of understanding selfhood and language. There is no finality, no fixed meaning, no stability.

Read My Lips is presented with the generous support of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant.


Performance at The Queens Museum / Queens International

Performing: Fishing with Angela 
May 22 from 2-2:30
The Queens Museum


Artist and teacher Angela Dufresne took Kerry Downey on a fishing trip upstate in Spring 2015. Downey’s subsequent performance and video explores their relationship through fishing and painting practices. They engage with the layered histories of mimicry through queer, feminist, pedagogical, painterly, and performative practices. Using an overhead projector, Downey attempts to copy Dufresne’s gestures, words, and ideas. The performance brings the politics and poetics of inter-generational exchange into close proximity.
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