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Exhibitions and Events

U-M Humanities exhibition explores aging, identity and labor

By Lilian Varner

The James and Anne Duderstadt Center opened in 1996 as the Media Union and will mark its 25th anniversary with an open house-style week of events Oct. 4-8. (Photo courtesy of Duderstadt Center staff)

The University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities presents “Beautiful By Night,” an exhibition by Chicago-based photographer, filmmaker, and visual artist James Hosking. The photo series and documentary project is about the veteran drag performers at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a small bar that has had an outsized influence on San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community for more than twenty years.

Sadly, it is now the last gay bar in the area. The project captures the performers Donna Personna, Olivia Hart, and Collette LeGrande as they transform at home, backstage, and onstage. It is a candid exploration of aging, identity, and labor.


According to curator Amanda Krugliak, the timely work reveals not only the multiple dimensions of the protagonists, but also our skewed perceptions and value judgments in regards to aging, identity, class, and work.

“The artist and documentarian James Hosking lived in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood from 2010 to 2018, during which time he created the series of photographs and video Beautiful By Night. The exhibition presents intimate portraits of three long-time drag performers at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a small bar that has been so meaningful to San Franciso’s LGBTQ+ community for decades, and is now literally the last surviving gay bar in the neighborhood,” Krugliak said.

“The project is a deftly crafted and sensitive homage to performers Donna Personna, Olivia Hart, and Collette LeGrande. The images show us complicated, sometimes messy, multi-dimensional people in their environments, taking us from backstage to front and center, from the routine to the out of this world. Hosking’s focus on small details, the nuances of color, or the particularity of light, result in an expansive vision. As viewers, we feel the closeness of Hosking’s relationships to Donna, Olivia, and Collette, and, in turn, we also feel for them. They are the protagonists of their own stories, both everyday and extraordinary, and we are their rapt audience.”

Some of artist James Hosking’s photos featured as part of the U-M Institute for the Humanities exhibition, “Beautiful By Night.”

James Hosking’s portraiture explores underseen LGBTQ+ communities and subcultures. He often combines multiple images to explore sequentiality and juxtaposition. In recent work, he prints on fabric and acrylic, as well as collages with archival material, vernacular photos, and found textures.

His work was included in the 2020 exhibition Come to Your Census at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and he had a multi-year collaboration with the city’s Tenderloin Museum that featured screenings, public programming, and a solo exhibition. His work has been screened internationally and has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostMother Jones, and many other publications.

He collaborated with National Book Award-winning writer William T. Vollmann on a portfolio about transgender women for Port magazine. His work has received support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and San Francisco’s Grants for the Arts program

Beautiful By Night will be on view through February 21, 2022 at the Institute for the Humanities Gallery. The Institute for the Humanities Gallery is located at located at 202 S. Thayer St., Ann Arbor, and is free and open to the public from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays.

Related Events:

Wednesday February 16, 6:30 PM joing the Institute for the Humanities for a special viewing of James Hosking’s film, “Beautiful By Night” with guests, protagonists, and queens Donna Personna and Olivia Hart in the Thayer Academic Building.

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