George Segal’s ‘Gay Liberation’
Off Lomita Mall, facing the Science and Engineering Quad, a 1981 work by acclaimed sculptor George Segal (1924-2000) evinces Stanford’s longtime interest in LGBT equality.
Gay Liberation exists in two castings in New York and at Stanford. It depicts two same-sex couples relaxing in a park, their forms rendered in provocatively immaculate white-painted cast metal. The work commemorates the 1969 Stonewall rebellion that is often cited as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.
The New York casting is installed in the park across the street from the Stonewall site. Stanford installed its casting in 1984.
It was an act of courage for the university to display this work at a time when gay men and lesbians invoked controversy even when simply relaxing in public, like the two young couples Gay Liberation depicts.
Such images “help to create queer culture by creating a social space for queerness, rather than just representing it after the fact,” argues Stanford art history Professor Richard Meyer.
They demonstrate in a uniquely clear manner the interdependence of all art with its social context, and thus are vital to understanding the visual art of our time.
Stanford’s sculpture was vandalized and restored twice, in 1984 and 1994. While the work was offsite for restoration, members of the Stanford community posed together, imitating the postures of the missing figures and reoccupying the social and visual space that the statues had claimed.
Each act of vandalism inspired calls for political engagement, including what eventually became a university-wide ban on LGBT discrimination.
Learn how Stanford pioneered partner benefits for same-sex couples in 1990.