featured gallery for December 2014

1989—What We Lost

December 1, 1989 was the first Day Without Art. Six hundred arts institutions participated. The Metropolitan Museum of Art removed Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein. The Museum of Modern Art had Leonard Bernstein compose and play a two-minute piece. According to The New York Times:

“The loosely coordinated events—including gallery closings, the temporary removal of artworks from gallery walls, memorial services, performances and educational programs about AIDS—were organized by a group of arts professionals called Visual AIDS. The nationwide observance, which was held on the World Health Organization's second AIDS Awareness Day and is to be an annual event, was called ‘to make people pay attention to the effects of AIDS on the art world and our society,’ said Thomas W. Sokolowski, a member of Visual AIDS.”

In retrospect, December 1989 seems a watershed moment, signaling, in some way, that the straight world—the world that had previously ignored the 117,508 US cases of AIDS and 89,343 deaths—now had to pay attention.

Not only did those 600 largely mainstream institutions participate in the Day Without Art, nine days after Day Without Art ACT UP and WHAM! organized the Stop the Church demonstration for which seven thousand people gathered outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to protest John Cardinal O’Connor’s homophobic and misogynistic AIDS and anti-abortion policies. About one hundred fifty people demonstrated inside the cathedral, interrupting the Mass. One former altar boy spontaneously crumbled the Host and threw it to the floor. That “sacrilegious” action served as an excuse for the expression of intense ire around the world. At the same time, the action demonstrated the strength and determination of AIDS activists and utterly changed the western world’s perception of gay people.

This Visual AIDS Web Gallery largely consists of works produced by artists who died in 1989 or shortly thereafter, or artists who were making work in 1989. Many people died of AIDS throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s but AIDS didn’t just end lives; it destroyed a burgeoning culture of public gayness and a flourishing artistic expression of unbridled sexuality.

Ed Aulerich-Sugai (1959–1994)

Anger was a dominant emotion in 1989, so this piece seemed an appropriate place to begin.

Ray Navarro (1964–1990)

Ray was a great presence in ACT UP, the AIDS activist group. The first time I met him, I felt that I had known him my entire life. He exuded that kind of warmth and human connection. He had a great sense of political theater, a wonderful eye, and a mischievous smile that lit up the universe.

Marc Lida (1957–1992)

I loved the baths and they were an integral part of the gay experience in the ’70s and ’80s. I loved the sense of adventure and the hunt. I loved being with so many naked men’s bodies. I loved the connections and the closeness and the tension. I think I even loved the rejection—sometimes.

Vincent Cianni (1952–)

This picture of the Christopher Street Pier was taken in 1989. The feeling of community, of being different, of getting away with something, the feeling you might fall through a hole into the river—all that has been surgically removed from the gentrified, prettified, and pristine version of the piers we have now.

Bern Boyle (1951–1992)

Michael Wilson (1952–1996) I didn’t know Michael, but I would see him walking around the East Village all the time. He was the personification of leading a life exactly as you wanted.

Hunter Reynolds (1959–)

Hunter getting arrested at Stop the Church on December 10, 1989, protesting the evil Cardinal John O’Connor who gay bashed while he collected money from people with AIDS in his Catholic hospitals. He pretended to be righteous but was an evil son-of-a-bitch.

Howard Brookner (1954–1989)

Howard was a filmmaker so this painting is really a stand-in for a moving image. He made Burroughs: The Movie, a great film about William Burroughs.

Adrian Kellard (1959–1991)

I suppose this painting is intended as a reference to St. Christopher, which is just a dyslexic form of Christopher Street, but I mostly respond to the skeleton that promises, “I will never leave you.”

Carlos Almaraz (1941–1989)

This web gallery is very New York-centric so I thought I should include some West Coast work. What delights me in this painting are the exuberant very California colors and everything crashing into everything else.

Greg Maskwa (1953–)

The naked man juxtaposed with the wrecking ball destroying a building evokes two overwhelming aspects of 1989: Lives and buildings both were crumbling in 1989.

I don’t believe we are all voyeurs, but there is something wonderful about the unexpected view of a naked man in a window. One summer night some years ago, Nelson Gonzalez and I were walking down Broadway when we spied a man taking a shower about eight flights up. We stood and watched for twenty minutes as he repeatedly soaped up and rinsed his penis and his asshole for what we could only imagine was going to be a very hot date.

Jack Smith (1932–1989)

Jack Smith pioneered performance art and made a crazy, queer kind of film and collage art that featured a mad mishmash of weird politics and sexual anarchy. If I could have, I would have added Jack’s film Normal Love to this collection of artworks.

David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992)

In the 1980s, artists could break into disused New York City piers and create huge, inspiring spur-of-the moment exhibitions.

Keith Haring (1958–1990)

Also, in the 1980s artists could create manic, excessive hot murals in community center bathrooms. Let’s not forget that New York City’s LGBT Community Center had to be forced not to destroy this one.

Scott Burton (1939–1989)

My favorite Scott Burton chairs are outside the Equitable Life Insurance Co. on Seventh Avenue. They’re cold and hard and incredibly uncomfortable. Perfect for captains of industry to spend eternal life on.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955–1989)

Sometimes I’m afraid that his work is a bit too self-consciously exotic—but this is a lovely, mysterious photograph. Is it after sex, or before, or just a comfortable place to sit?

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989)

Mapplethorpe at his diabolical loveliest. I thought maybe this photograph was taken before he had his nipple pierced, but then I realized it was the other nipple.

Mark Morrisroe (1959–1989)

Pimply-faced, lithesome Mark Morrisroe in 1982 and then unabashed and unapologetic in 1989.

David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992)

The year 1989 was a time when people photographed their dead lovers. It was a way to remember them and to make explicit the awful toll the epidemic extracted from us.