AIDS, Art and Activism Collide in a Superb Show at ClampArt

August 17, 2017

Ever since the beginning of the 1980’s, AIDS has become an increasingly present phenomenon, entering the work of many American artists in a myriad of ways and transforming the world of contemporary art significantly. Many of them have sought immediate change in combating the crisis. With a variety of artistic and activist responses marked by inter-generational, communal, as well as individual associations, the epidemic has brought forth the strange connections between the most private of our lives and the most public. Celebrating the launch of Ward 5B, a new archival and curatorial service, ClampArt in New York will explore these art practices in the exhibition titled Screaming in the Streets: AIDS, Art, Activism.

David Wojnrawicz - Democracy, Gran Fury - Silence Equals Death
Left: David Wojnrawicz - Democracy / Right: Gran Fury - Silence Equals Death

AIDS, Art and Activism

By 1995, at the height of the epidemic in the United States, there were an estimated 48,371 annual AIDS-related deaths. Anger, confusion, fear and defiance, all triggered by the artists’ existential situations and the emergence of a culture which was forming as a response to the crisis, have brought art closer to politics and life. Linked in this way within the context of the exhibition are Kenny Burgess, Peter Hujar, Haoui Montaug, Essex Hemphill, David Wojnarowicz, Dorian Corey, Mark Morrisroe, Assotto Saint, Arthur Russell, Gordon Stevenson, Keith Haring, Reinaldo Arenas, Ethyl Eichelberger, Jimmy De Sana, and many, many others. The AIDS epidemics became a braking point in the stigmatization of LGBT and queer community. Radical spaces and clubs, such as the Pyramid Club, PS 122 or Danceteria, served not only as their “safe zones”, but also as grounds where contact among individuals would propel the spread of the disease.

Keith Haring - Ronald Reagan Accused of TV Star Sex Death, 1980
Keith Haring - Ronald Reagan Accused of TV Star Sex Death, 1980

Villains and Heroes

A culture which was forming as a response to the crisis has immensely changed the dominant self-reflexive art practices. It sprang a generation of AIDS activists connected by art, at the same time being rooted in the historically radical politics and culture of New York. There were many villains and heroes throughout the early years of the epidemic, from the criminal prejudice of the Reagan administration to the epic struggle with the creation of safe sex. The artwork and ephemera of the era reflect this clash of ideologies, both philosophical and economic. The exhibition will focus on the role of radical spaces for sexual minorities, at the same time celebrating a generation of lost artists.

Gail Thacker - Mark Morrisroe, Nan Goldin - David H. looking down, Zurich, 1998
Left: Gail Thacker - Mark Morrisroe / Right: Nan Goldin - David H. looking down, Zurich, 1998

Screaming in the Streets at ClampArt

Ward 5B is an archival and curatorial service specializing in late 20th-century urban ephemera and art, with a focus on punk aesthetic, radical spaces, performance art, drag, experimental theatre, camp, queercore, and guerilla/street art projects. The exhibition Screaming in the Streets: AIDS, Art, Activism will be on view at ClampArt in New York City until September 23rd, 2017. A fully-illustrated catalog designed by Carlos E. Kempff S. is available for purchase.

Featured image: Mark Morrisroe - Double Image of Pat Hearn, 1982. All images courtesy of ClampArt.

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