Something to See – Gluck: Art and Identity

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This exhibition, running at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery until March 11th, is the first to explore Gluck’s work alongside her personal history. Compiled from the Royal Pavilion’s collection, the Gluck family archive and objects lent by various individuals, there exists a curious contrast between the sterile biographical information the exhibition presents, and Gluck’s warm and intimate works.

On first entering the exhibition the viewer is struck by a set of boards that dissect and analyse Gluck’s significant romantic relationships. This clinical timeline seems too diminutive a representation of what was in fact a life of rich and diverse loves. Gluck was born Hannah Gluckstein in 1895, but from adolescence insisted on ‘Gluck’, and rejected any prefix to her name. She dressed solely in men’s clothing and fell in love with women. She is now considered a role model for LGBTQ communities and individuals.

Even without knowledge of the artist’s pioneering rejection of normative sexuality, the viewer  immediately notices a brave, uncompromising character in Gluck’s paintings. Her highly stylised portraits are almost cartoonish, the subjects existing brazenly on solid, brightly coloured backgrounds, unafraid of drawing the viewers eye.

Gluck’s flower paintings can be found next, a selection of highly provocative images that ooze femininity; Gluck was said to be ‘fascinated by the symbolic, erotic, gendered association of flowers.’ The relentless, groping reach of Gluck’s lilies seems to reflect a determined sexual curiosity that won’t be sated. Gluck said of the flowers she painted: “I feel like a bee… penetrating them for their sweetness”.

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In a letter to her brother in 1918, referring to her new, androgynous style of dress, Gluck wrote: “I hope you will like it because I intend to wear that sort of thing always.” This artist’s disregard for convention remains incredibly inspiring. ‘Art and Identity’ cannot fail to embolden the viewer, and Gluck’s refusal to compromise any part of herself manifests itself in a brave and captivating style of painting.

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