Patric McCoy: Take My Picture, Exhibition Documenting 1980s Black Gay Chicago On View Until July 15

Patric McCoy: Take My Picture features a selection of 50 striking photographic portrayals of gay Black men taken on the streets of Chicago in the 1980s. These photographs were shot by Patric McCoy, Chicago native, retired environmental scientist, and noted collector of African American art, who traveled around Chicago, often on his bike, always with his camera. Installed on the second floor of Wrightwood 659, Patric McCoy: Take MyPicture opened on April 14, and will continue to July 15, 2023. This exhibition is presented by Alphawood Exhibitions at Wrightwood 659

Over a crucial ten-year period, McCoy shot thousands of images—always at the subjects’ request— which form a rich document of 1980s Black gay Chicago. Take My Picture features a selection of some 50 black-and-white and color photographs from this decade, by the end of which thousands would die of HIV/AIDS, including many of McCoy’s friends, lovers, and subjects. McCoy’s subjects are neither posed nor directed; each has agency over how he is seen, elevating his humanity, inverting and subverting the viewer’s gaze. Take My Picture can be seen as a poignant marker of place, time, and memory; an altar to those lost. 

The exhibition is curated by Juarez Hawkins, artist, educator, and curator, who noted, “McCoy and his camera fulfilled an unspoken need for Black men to be seen. Seen by someone who did not objectify them as ‘Other’, but an insider who allowed them, paraphrasing Langston Hughes, to be their ‘beautiful black selves’.” 

The Rialto Tap, a now defunct gay bar in the South Loop of Chicago, attracted McCoy’s muses. Open around the clock, the bar packed in men from all walks of life: unhoused people, downtown professionals, drag queens, gangsters, “buppies,” and others. The Rialto was one of few places where black men could socialize with other black men; at the time, many “mainstream” gay bars were unwelcoming to men of color. 

Patric McCoy is a retired environmental scientist in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Regional Office in Chicago. He became a national expert in enforcing air pollution regulations against the petroleum refining industry and was the 
recipient of numerous awards from the Department of Justice and the USEPA for that work. He has been collecting contemporary African American art for 50 years and has a collection of more than 1,300 pieces of fine art, 90% produced by Chicago artists. In 2003 he co-founded Diasporal Rhythms, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 arts organization that promotes the collection by individuals and institutions of art from the African diaspora. He leads the organization in achieving its goals by organizing exhibitions, seminars, studio visits and home tours of collections which showcase the artists being collected in African American communities. In 2010, Mr. McCoy established an art trust to leave his art collection and other items from his estate to Diasporal Rhythms. 

Founded in 2018, Wrightwood 659 is a private, non-collecting institution devoted to socially engaged art and architecture. Wrightwood 659 was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, who transformed a 1920s residential building with his signature concrete forms and poetic treatment of natural light. Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and acclaimed as “a hidden treasure,” Wrightwood 659’s soaring and light-filled galleries offer both intimate and monumental experiences as visitors engage with the pressing issues of our time.

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