The first official Leslie-Lohman Gallery opened on Broome Street in 1972. “Finally, this art could come out of the closet,” Leslie said. “We also showed lesbian imagery, which was somewhat less contentious,” he observed, “because straight men love lesbians.” Still, many challenges remained. That year, an elderly Italian neighbor called the police from the rectory of a local Catholic Church, disturbed by an exhibition of Marion Pinto nudes.
Though the gallery was “above-grade,” cops showed up anyway. Ever the smooth-talker, Leslie greeted them: “Oh hello, officers, are you here to see the show?” The police tried in vain to convince Leslie not to hang the paintings on the walls. “They were so clumsy, they didn’t know what they were doing,” Leslie said. At the end of it, “the police couldn’t do anything. It was painting!”
Their support of queer artists extended beyond the gallery. Leslie led me to the spare bedroom, where his roommate lives. He pointed out Before Time Changes Them (1970) by Andrew Sichel, a fractured, blue-toned blow-job scene covering almost an entire wall. The title is a line from a Constantine Cavafy poem, and Leslie couldn’t help but wax poetic about Cavafy, who “wrote magnificent, rhapsodic gay poetry.”
Painted by Sichel for Cornell University’s master’s degree exhibition, Before Time Changes Them “created such a crisis in the student body and among the faculty it had to come down,” Leslie said. “Someone called us and told us about it. So we went up and bought it.” Even though Leslie described the painting as “ugly,” they showed it publicly, and their support “salvaged [Sichel’s] amour propre.”