Gay Icons (National Potrait Gallery, 18th July 2009)

I really like visiting the National Portrait Gallery because I feel that I am getting close to people in a non intrusive way. I particularly enjoyed the Gay Icons exhibition for three reasons. Firstly, my interest in the ten panel members who made the selections, secondly for their selections, and thirdly for the reasons for their selections.

The panel of artists, writers, entertainers, athletes, campaigners and politicians are icons themselves. Chaired by Sandi Toksvig, the panel had to make a selection of their icons, but also include a portrait of themselves. I found the images of the panel as interesting as the ones the panel members chose and I found their lives as interesting.

The icons chosen by the panel are a mix of people from different walks of life, but are remarkable and have contributed enormously to art and politics. I loved the photograph of Martina Navratilova and the comment that accompanied it. That ‘knowing look’ was so inspiring. The photograph of KD Lang was mesmerising and captures a unique beauty. The champion tennis player, Billie Jean King chose to display images of people close to her, whilst Elton John chose people who had reached the top of their fields such as the former England manager, Graham Taylor and John Lennon.

The short descriptions of why the images were chosen were often personal and celebratory, recognising both the achievement of the person chosen and the personal reasons why the panel member had chosen the person as an icon. Chris Smith chooses the writer, Virginia Woolf who killed herself as two other people in his selections. Sandi Toksvig displays a portrait of the activist Peter Thatchell because of his campaigning work. In contrast, Lord Waheed Alli’s selection included entertainers who inspired and entertained a generation such as Village People and Will Young, but he also includes the Paul O’Grady character Lily Savage. I wasn’t sure if he meant Lily Savage or Paul O’Grady. I thought Lord Ali was the most interesting person in his selection, and I think this was why this exhibition is so good. It is of interest on a number of levels and I moved quickly round as I was so inquisiive to see who had been chosen and why.

Reviews and Previews

Gay Icons (Observer)
Gay Icons (Newsnight Review)
Gay Icons (Evening Standard)
Gay Icons (Times)
Gay Icons (Guardian)


Dyer, Richard and Toksvig Sandi. (2009) Gay Icons. London: National Portrait Gallery

Further Information

Gay Icons on the National Portrait Gallery Website

Gay Icons National Portrait Gallery

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