The question is whether a cohesive exhibition can be forged from such chaos. The answer in the case of “Trigger” — which includes more than 40 artists and collectives and fills three floors of the museum as well as its lobby – is just barely, to which an important coda must be added: Asking for cohesion in a survey of trans and queer art is probably asking for the wrong thing.
This is not to say there are no through lines. Grounding the show are historical references that keep the gay-trans-queer links always in sight. We get an encyclopedic dose of that history in a newsprint photo-collage posted in the museum’s main elevator. Produced by the artist Chris E. Vargas, and attributed to the Museum of Transgender History and Art that he founded as an archive in 2013, the picture is a group shot of L.G.B.T.Q.I. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex) celebrity spanning the centuries.
On the second floor, the New York painter Leidy Churchman serves up a hot pink version of a hot Marsden Hartley hunk. And Mariah Garnett projects images of herself, impersonating the 1970s gay porn star Peter Berlin, on a spinning disco ball. One floor up, two young filmmakers, Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel, commemorate a figure who gay visitors to the 1982 New Museum show might have recognized: Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), born Malcolm Michaels and self-identified as a drag queen, who is credited, in some accounts, with throwing a mirror-shattering shot glass that triggered the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall bar.