Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt

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Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt
Elizabeth, New Jersey,
United States
Known forCollage, Mixed Media

Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (born 1948) is an American artist who took part in the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City, which was a historic turning point in the movement for Gay liberation and LGBT rights. He is on the faculty of New York City's School of Visual Arts.[1]

Lanigan-Schmidt's artwork incorporates materials such as tinsel, foil, cellophane, saran wrap and glitter, embracing kitsch and the intentionally tacky.[2]

Early years and Stonewall uprising[edit]

Born in 1948 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt spent most of his childhood in nearby Linden.[3] As a child in 1950s Linden, after Lanigan-Schmidt was assigned to decorate the school bulletin board in his Catholic elementary school, he built a detailed model of a church altar. The impressive model was featured in a local paper while Lanigan-Schmidt was a student at St. Elizabeth School.[4]

In the early 1960s he worked at "odd jobs to help support his family and was bullied by high school thugs."[5] He moved to New York City as a young man and attended Pratt Institute in 1965–66. He applied to, but was rejected by Cooper Union. He later attended the School of Visual Arts.[6]

In the 1960s and '70s Lanigan-Schmidt was an associate of the underground filmmaker Jack Smith. He participated in at least one of Smith's performances, "Withdrawal from Orchid Lagoon",[7] and was interviewed in the documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis.[8] Another member of Lanigan-Schmidt's circle was Charles Ludlam.[9]

Lanigan-Schmidt, who is openly gay,[10] was present at the Stonewall riots in June 1969 when patrons of a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village spontaneously fought back against a violent police raid; the uprising became a turning point in the fight for LGBT rights in the United States. Shortly after the riot started, he was photographed by freelance photographer Fred W. McDarrah.[11][12][13] He is one of the few recognized Stonewall veterans still living.[14][15][16]

Lanigan-Schmidt appears in the 1995 film, Stonewall, in a documentary segment.[17] An installation art piece by Lanigan-Schmidt, Mother Stonewall and the Golden Rats, commemorated the events at the Stonewall Inn.[18]

In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Lanigan-Schmidt was among those invited to the White House to meet with Michelle and Barack Obama.[19]


Lanigan-Schmidt began by exhibiting his art in his own apartment; an early major exhibit in 1969 was titled The Sacristy of the Hamptons.[2] Another home exhibit was titled The Summer Palace of Czarina Tatlina.[20] In these early home exhibits, and also in at least one later recreation of an early exhibit, he guided visitors through the exhibit in drag, as the character art collector Ethel Dull.[21][22] His work has received critical acclaim, despite not being very widely known.

Reasons for Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt's art not reaching a wider audience totally elude me. This is major, major work, reflecting and augmenting today's dialogue in a unique and commanding voice. Many artists, including a generation of Lanigan-Schmidt's students, have been repeatedly amazed, inspired and guided by its panache, rapier-sharp wit, subversiveness and opulent beauty.

Lanigan-Schmidt's artwork has been compared to that of Florine Stettheimer, who also used cellophane in her sets for the Gertrude Stein/Virgil Thomson opera Four Saints in Three Acts; his art was included in an exhibit of artists influenced by Stettheimer.[23] His work has also been likened to the religious-themed tinfoil-covered thrones of art brut artist James Hampton.[24] He is sometimes grouped with the Pattern and Decoration art movement, though he says that is "retrospective craziness".[25][6] His art is noted for its incorporation of Catholic iconography.[26][27] Joe Brainard is also cited as an influence with his use of decorative collage and queer and religious themes.[28][29] He has been referenced as an antecedent to Jeff Koons in the intentional use of kitsch in art.[30]

Lanigan-Schmidt's work has been included in major art museum survey exhibits. His art was in the 1984 Venice Biennale, and his trip there inspired his 1985 Venetian Glass Series.[24] His foil rats and drag queens produced in the 1970s were included in the 1995 exhibit "In A Different Light" at the Berkeley Art Museum, which was curated by Lawrence Rinder and Nayland Blake.[31][32] His art was included in the 1991 Whitney Biennial as well as the Whitney Museum's survey of 20th-century art, "The American century: art & culture 1900-2000."[33]

From November 18, 2012, to April 7, 2013, Lanigan-Schmidt's art was the subject of a retrospective at MoMA PS1.[34]


  1. ^ "School of Visual Arts: Our Faculty". School of Visual Art. Archived from the original on 2023-02-04. Retrieved 2023-03-13.
  2. ^ a b Sandler, Irving (1996), Art of the postmodern era: from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, Westview Press, p. 157, ISBN 978-0-8133-3433-2
  3. ^ "Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt", Invisible Culture, May 2, 2023. Accessed May 14, 2023. "Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt has spent the last forty years breaking rules and tearing down barriers. His glittering mixed-media constructions speak directly to the kinds of experiences and issues most people prefer not to talk about at dinner parties – sex, class and religion. Born and raised in the multi-ethnic Catholic enclaves of Elizabeth and Linden, New Jersey, Lanigan-Schmidt’s work reveals a subtly articulated gay and working-class consciousness as well as an encyclopedic understanding of theological, philosophical and aesthetic ideas/ideals."
  4. ^ BOMB Magazine: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt by Jessica Baran; Newspaper clipping, "Pupil Constructs Church Model," c. 1955; Note: he is misattributed in the photo; he is the boy on the lower right. The school was at 170 Hussa Street, and closed in 2014; it is now a part of the campus of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church in Linden.
  5. ^ Johnson, Ken. "The Alchemy of Debris Forged Into Passion", The New York Times, December 6, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2023. "Born in 1948, Mr. Lanigan-Schmidt grew up poor in Linden, N.J., where he had to work odd jobs to help support his family and was bullied by high school thugs."
  6. ^ a b Baran, Jessica (2013-04-16), "Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt", BOMB, retrieved 2013-08-16
  7. ^ Brecht, Stefan (1986), "Jack Smith, 1961-71. The sheer beauty of junk. With a poem by Stuart Sherman and a footnote by Charles Ludlam on Mr. T.", Queer Theatre, London: Methuen, p. 10, ISBN 0-413-49600-7
  8. ^ Weissberg, Jay (2006-05-10), "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis", Variety
  9. ^ Kaufman, David (2005), Ridiculous!: the theatrical life and times of Charles Ludlam, Hal Leonard Corporation, p. 66, ISBN 978-1-55783-637-3
  10. ^ a b Kushner, Robert (1999-05-01), "Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt at Holly Solomon", Art in America
  11. ^ Carter, David (2004). Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. St. Martin's Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-312-34269-2.
  12. ^ PBS (2010). "Who was at Stonewall?". American Experience. Retrieved Oct 1, 2022.
  13. ^ Khan, Shazia (2009-06-23). "Pride Week 2009: Stonewall Patron Reflects On Riots". NY1. Archived from the original on 2013-01-30. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  14. ^ Adler, Margot (2009-06-28). "40 Years Later, Stonewall Riots Remembered". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  15. ^ Carter, David (2005), Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-312-34269-2
  16. ^ Rick, Bragg (1994-06-23), "From a Night of Rage, the Seeds of Liberation", New York Times, retrieved 2009-09-12
  17. ^ Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt at IMDb
  18. ^ Atkins, Robert (1989-06-13), "Art on Stone Walls", Village Voice
  19. ^ "Obama hosts reception and renews commitment to LGBT community". SAGE. 2009-08-03. Archived from the original on 2011-07-28.
  20. ^ Weinstein, Jeff (1997-03-01), "Art in residence. (home art)", Artforum
  21. ^ Ludlam, Charles (1992), "Mr. T. or El Pato in the Gilded Summer Palace of Czarina-Tatlina", Scourge of Human Folly, New York: Theatre Communications Group, p. 148, ISBN 978-1-55936-041-8
  22. ^ Atkins, Robert (1994-06-24), "Queer for You", Village Voice, retrieved 2009-09-16
  23. ^ Upshaw, Reagan (Jan 1996), ""Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart" at Holly Solomon", Art in America [dead link]
  24. ^ a b Raynor, Vivien (1985-09-13), "Art: Blue-Collar Lanigan-Schmidt", New York Times, retrieved 2009-09-12
  25. ^ Glueck, Grace (2002-06-10), "Holly Solomon, Adventurous Art Dealer, Is Dead at 68", New York Times, pp. B8, retrieved 2009-09-12
  26. ^ Occhiogrosso, Peter (1989), Once a Catholic: prominent Catholics and ex-Catholics reveal the influence of the church on their lives and work, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-35670-3
  27. ^ Westfall, Stephen (1994-05-01), "Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt at Holly Solomon. (New York, New York)", Art in America[dead link]
  28. ^ Cotter, Holland (1997-03-28), "A Proto-Pop Sensibility and a Visual Equivalent of Poetry", New York Times, retrieved 2009-09-12
  29. ^ Lewallen, Constance (2001), Joe Brainard: a retrospective, University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, p. 15, ISBN 978-1-887123-44-0
  30. ^ Klein, Ulrike (1994), The business of art unveiled: New York art dealers speak up, Peter Lang, p. 190, ISBN 978-3-631-46364-2
  31. ^ Rinder, Lawrence; Scholder, Amy (1995), In a Different Light: Visual Culture, Sexual Identity, Queer Practice, San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, ISBN 978-0872863002
  32. ^ Atkins, Robert (1995-01-31), "Very Queer Indeed", Village Voice, retrieved 2009-09-12
  33. ^ Saltz, Jerry (1999-10-12), "Tasting Menu", Village Voice, retrieved 2009-09-12
  34. ^ Johnson, Ken (2012-12-06), "The Alchemy of Debris Forged Into Passion", New York Times