On one of their first dates in 2013, artists Nick Horan and Zachary Z. Handler quizzed each other on their favorite quotes from the TV show "The Golden Girls."
It was a litmus test, of sorts, "because if the other person says, I don't really watch 'The Golden Girls,' we're done. I'm out," Handler, 36, said with a laugh.
Luckily, the Waverly residents shared their fandom — and an understanding that as gay men, the spunky elderly women of "The Golden Girls" meant a tremendous amount to them.
"I identified with those women. I just felt a part of that family," Handler said.
So when it came time to plan their wedding, Handler and Horan turned to the Miami roommates — Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), Rose Nylund (Betty White) and Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) — for inspiration. The couple would combine their shared love of art, the LGBTQ community and the hit TV show for a wedding celebration and an art exhibit.
The couple launches their "Miami Is Nice" exhibit Saturday in the SpaceCamp gallery on North Avenue, which will feature work from 45 artists from around the country. Each will present paintings, illustrations, sculptures, zines and digital installations influenced by an idealized version of Miami in the 1980s — the original setting for "The Golden Girls" — as well as the TV show's characters and themes. The exhibit aims to create a dialogue surrounding heavy topics like transgender rights, race and climate change, but through a lens of humor and joy, Horan said.
It's all inspired by the outspoken nature of "The Golden Girls," which tackled issues like sexism, age discrimination and the AIDS crisis during its run from 1985 to 1992.
"It was the first place that I saw queer values represented on screen," said Horan, 29. "They gave Rose an AIDS scare in the middle of the '80s. To give this innocent-appearing white woman [an AIDS scare], that spoke volumes to what was going on culturally."
The exhibit will include floral wallpaper identical to what was used on "The Golden Girls" set; an interactive re-creation of Blanche's bedroom, where guests can take selfies and photos using a photo booth; and "Golden Girls" cheesecake, a play on the women's favorite comfort food on the show and Handler and Horan's subversion of a traditional wedding cake.
"We want [people] to be swept away by the neon decadence of the '80s. I want people to feel joyful to laugh to celebrate with us," said Horan. He and Handler will marry during a private ceremony at the gallery on Oct. 14.
Horan and Handler, who received fundraising for the exhibit through the community, Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, artist fundraising and advocacy organization Hatchfund and others, have been planning the exhibit since their engagement at Artscape two years ago. They have enlisted Miami curator Michelle Ivette Gomez, founder of wedding ceremony and art exhibition company Creative Unions Event Designs, and Carlyn Thomas, director of Terrault Gallery, as co-curators of both the exhibit and their wedding, helping to create a private ceremony that shirks tradition.
"We wanted a wedding that was not about us," said Handler, adding that audio from their ceremony will be played over speakers during the latter half of the exhibit (They will also be handing out cheesecake). "So, it's important to us to share our wedding with the exhibition and vice versa, because they're tied to each other."
Artist Tiffany Smith of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the exhibit serves as a "soothing, nostalgic moment" for people who watched "The Golden Girls."
"Definitely Blanche's bedroom and the wallpaper and everything has seeped into my subconscious. … I always wanted my bedroom like that," she said.
Smith will create a plant fountain installation, composed of an inflatable pool and a mix of artificial plants and live plants donated from other artists and members of the community.
"The work speaks so much about having this shifting sense of home, and making a safe space where you land," Smith said. "A space that you can celebrate and be yourself and celebrate anything you love, without being judged or have that infringed upon."
The exhibit will also feature programming throughout October, including "Golden Girls" watch parties, a "Queer Performance Evening" and "Cheesecake Conversations," a discussion with Stan Zimmerman, one of the original writers for "The Golden Girls," which will be hosted by H. Alan Scott and broadcast on Scott's podcast, "Out on The Lanai: A Golden Girls Podcast."
"I love the fact that the [LGBT] community has embraced 'The Golden Girls,' and I think it's because you see four women freely talking about life and having sex and finding community within each other," said Zimmerman, who has written for other hit TV shows like "Roseanne" and "Gilmore Girls." "They were able to hit on so many important topics and also be very, very funny. That's what real life is, laughing to get through some really tough times, to feel and cry sometimes or just be silent and listen."
But the writers often weren't thinking about queerness. Often times, they were advised to stray from it.
"Back in those days, we were told by our agent, 'Don't come out on staff,'" said Zimmerman, who is gay.
"I think that's an important part for me — to let people know the fight that we had. The fight is not over now."
Horan said the show was subversive in its time, and it feels relevant to put it in a modern context during a divisive political time in the country.
"It feels like a beautiful act of resistance to be getting married and to be using our queer love for positive," said Horan.
"I'm so overwhelmed on a daily basis by the news and what's going on politically around the world. It feels like a really scary time to me. This exhibit on a daily basis lifts me up. ... [The exhibit] is for us to say this is who we are, this is what we love. You have to take it.
"It's going to make you laugh. It's going to make you cry, and that, to me, is important."
If you go
- “Miami Is Nice,” a “Golden Girls”-inspired exhibit, runs through Oct. 28 at SpaceCamp, 16 W. North Ave., Station North. An opening reception will be held 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday. Regular gallery hours are 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, excluding Oct. 14. Free. miamiisnice.com
- The gallery will host a free “Cheesecake Conversations” with H. Alan Scott, host of “Out on The Lanai: A Golden Girls Podcast,” and Stan Zimmerman, one of the original writers for “Golden Girls,” broadcast live on the podcast website. 8 p.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 18. Free.
- The exhibit will close with a night of drag, dance, poetry, and music performed by queer performance artists from Baltimore and Washington. 8 p.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 28. Free.
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