Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin, The Retirement of no. 99 (Kensett, AR), 2019. Charcoal powder and wind on paper. 36 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artists.

Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin: Wayfinding

July 15—October 9, 2022

The Blaffer Art Museum is proud to present the first solo museum exhibition in Texas of artistic and life partners Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin (working collaboratively as “Nick & Jake”), whose poignant interdisciplinary practice marries art, theatre, performance, archival research, and spoken word. As part of this select survey that spans multiple years of activity, the Blaffer will commission a precedent-setting number of new works by Nick & Jake that include two monumental drawings, intimate cartographic mappings of pioneering community members, and a pair of new performative lectures. The artists will also orchestrate a new performance-based “cloud” painting that will be presented at a campus-based location outside the museum, and a newly assembled compilation of their seminal video works will be displayed at the UH Student Center and Blaffer Art Museum social media channels. Within this multi-faceted and multi-site celebration, this constellation of new works will be integrated with a handful of past works to carefully trace the evolution and achievement of Nick & Jake’s practice.

Nick & Jake have spent the majority of their artistic lives mining the habitually marginalized and unheralded histories of LGBTQ communities across the United States, and how the legacies of elements found and forgotten affect the contemporary queer experience. Their primary body of work, 50 States, is an ongoing, multi-decade series of installations and performances made in response to little-known pre-Stonewall queer histories from each state. This profound vocational endeavor engages critically with perceptions of history and identity as America’s views of sexuality evolve at an astonishing pace, while provoking deeply troubling social and legislative backlashes.

The Blaffer Art Museum exhibition centers on a new body of drawings that the artists refer to as “wind prints” in which imagery from their ambitious 50 States project is stenciled in loose charcoal powder and subsequently blown away. “The remaining records of the images are,” in the poetic assessment of Nick & Jake, “as ephemeral, delicate, and fragile as the hidden queer histories they are derived from.” The creation of this series marks the ten-year anniversary since the artists launched 50 States, and is quite notably their first body of work congregating their research in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, and Wyoming. By combining physical mass with material fragility, Nick & Jake believe they “have found the synthesis of forces that have defined our lives in our adopted hometown; the prints are literally of a scale unlike anything we could have imagined making before, but more so, they are spiritually expansive—holding all of the reverence we feel for these histories and all of the complexity and grace, grief and perseverance, holiness and grittiness, that we have come to see in these stories that collectively suggest the depth of our queer lineage in this country.”

The Blaffer exhibition will also include new works on paper drawn from oral histories recorded by the artists of queer community members who, like the artists, found their way to Houston from elsewhere in the country.  These “Houston Migrations” propose a uniquely queered documentation of community narratives that were long kept intentionally secret, coded, and veiled.  Together they constitute the beginning of an open-ended atlas that the artists will continue to build throughout their careers.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Nick & Jake will also orchestrate a pair of performative, multi-media artist lectures that map little-known LGBTQ histories by way of guest performers, spoken word, animated research, and audience participation. Building on the artists’ background in experimental theatre, these live events invigorate the typically staid format of the artist’s lecture and provide an inclusive platform for the artists to collaborate with community members.

This exhibition is organized for the Blaffer Art Museum by Steven Matijcio, Jane Dale Owen Director & Chief Curator.

Nick Vaughan & Jake Margolin: Wayfinding, installation view, Blaffer Art Museum.