More Life | David Zwirner

In June 1981, the US Centers for Disease Control first reported what would eventually be known as AIDS. Marking the fortieth anniversary of this report, this series of curated solo exhibitions highlights a selection of artists—Ching Ho Cheng, Derek Jarman, Frank Moore, Mark Morrisroe, Jesse Murry, Marlon Riggs, Silence=Death collective, and Hugh Steers—whose lives were cut short by HIV/AIDS-related complications during approximately the first twenty years of the epidemic.

This series explores the affective, aesthetic, personal, and political responses to the crisis. As new HIV infections continue to impact nearly 1.7 million individuals annually around the world, we present a focused look—through exhibitions, roundtable discussions, and a selective timeline—at some of the artists who were affected at the beginning of the ongoing crisis, and who are often neglected in broader art-historical and cultural narratives. 

The With Art/With HIV poster that reads an interview series highlighting the diversity of voices, interests, and ways of thinking about HIV, art, and culture.

Kairon Liu, Forgiveness and Fallible Beings II, 2015. Courtesy the artist

Kairon Liu, Forgiveness and Fallible Beings II, 2015. Courtesy the artist

AIDS 
in the Art 
World:
A Timeline

A selective history of HIV and its impact on artists, created with assistance from the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective.

Pre–1980s

A photo by Theodore (Ted) Kerr titled WISH YOU WERE HERE (area teen), dated 2019.

Theodore (Ted) Kerr, WISH YOU WERE HERE (area teen), 2019. Courtesy the artist 

Theodore (Ted) Kerr, WISH YOU WERE HERE (area teen), 2019. Courtesy the artist 

May 15, 1969

Sixteen-year-old Robert Rayford dies in St. Louis, Missouri. Later tests of Rayford’s tissue in 1987 revealed he was infected with HIV.

While sporadic cases of AIDS were documented prior to 1970, available data suggests that the current epidemic started in the mid-to-late 1970s. By 1980, HIV may have already spread to five continents (North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Australia) when an estimated 100,000–300,000 people could have already been infected.

1980s

Photo of the first ACT UP demonstration, June 1, 1987.

The first ACT UP float at Pride on June 28, 1987. Courtesy Avram Finkelstein

The first ACT UP float at Pride on June 28, 1987. Courtesy Avram Finkelstein

June 1980

Ching Ho Cheng’s exhibition Intimate Illuminations opens at the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York—one of the first major solo museum shows given to a contemporary Chinese American painter. 

June 5, 1981

The US Centers for Disease Control first reports what would eventually be known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (or AIDS).

May 18–June 18, 1983

Frank Moore stages his first solo exhibition, The Birds and the Bees, at the Clocktower, New York.

November 22-25, 1983

The World Health Organization (WHO) holds its first meeting to assess the global AIDS situation, marking the first time the international health community comes together to address the pandemic.

1985

The AIDS Memorial Foundation and the National AIDS Research Foundation join to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).

July 3–September 1, 1985

Mark Morrisroe’s photographs are included in Boston Now: Photography, a major exhibition of contemporary Boston-area photographers, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

September 17, 1985

Four years after the first reported case, President Reagan finally utters the word “AIDS” for the first time in public, after over 20,000 people had already died from related complications in the US.

A photo of Marlon Riggs and other actors in his film Tongues Untied, made in 1989.

Film still from Marlon Riggs, Tongues Untied, 1989

Film still from Marlon Riggs, Tongues Untied, 1989

A photo by Robert Giard, titled Five Members of “Other Countries”, dated March 1987.

Robert Giard, Five Members of “Other Countries”, March 1987. © Copyright Estate of Robert Giard. Courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Robert Giard, Five Members of “Other Countries”, March 1987. © Copyright Estate of Robert Giard. Courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Jesse Murry at his graduation, May 26, 1986

Jesse Murry at his graduation, May 26, 1986

1986

A group of gay Black writers establishes Other Countries, a collective that served as partial inspiration for Marlon Riggs’s seminal film Tongues Untied.

May 26, 1986

Jesse Murry receives an MFA from the Yale School of Art at age thirty-eight.

November 21–December 22, 1986

Mark Morrisroe stages his first New York solo exhibition at Pat Hearn’s gallery.

December 1986

The Silence=Death collective (comprising Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Soccarás) finalize the design of their iconic Silence=Death poster, a landmark work of protest art. 

A photo of Silence=Death posters wheatpasted in New York City in 1987 before the ACT UP demonstration. Photo by Oliver Johnston.

Original Silence=Death poster wheat-pasted on a New York City street, February 1987. Photo by Oliver Johnston. Courtesy Avram Finkelstein

Original Silence=Death poster wheat-pasted on a New York City street, February 1987. Photo by Oliver Johnston. Courtesy Avram Finkelstein

“The poster comes for you in ways art simply can’t. The poster comes for you where you live.”

—Avram Finkelstein

 

December 22, 1986

Derek Jarman receives an HIV-positive diagnosis. Soon thereafter he purchases Prospect Cottage on the coast of Dungeness, Kent.

1987

Frank Moore is diagnosed with HIV.

March 10, 1987

Writer and activist Larry Kramer makes a speech at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, which formally begins ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Through direct actions, such as die-ins, they seek to end the AIDS crisis and advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS.

March 19, 1987

The Food and Drug Administration approves AZT, the first antiretroviral medication used to treat HIV/AIDS. Its retail price—at $10,000—makes it prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of those who need it. 

March 24, 1987

Two hundred and fifty ACT UP activists converge on Wall Street to protest pharmaceutical profiteering and the government’s lack of willingness to do anything about it.

A photo by Donna Binder of the 1987 ACT UP demonstration in New York City.

ACT UP Demonstration in Federal Plaza, June 30, 1987. Photo by Donna Binder. © Donna Binder

 

ACT UP Demonstration in Federal Plaza, June 30, 1987. Photo by Donna Binder. © Donna Binder

 

Pride 1987. Photo by Donna Binder. © Donna Binder

Pride 1987. Photo by Donna Binder. © Donna Binder

April 1, 1987

President Reagan declares AIDS “public health enemy
no. 1” in a speech before the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and advocates for abstinence to combat the crisis.

June 1, 1987

Silence=Death’s AIDSGATE posters are seen in a series of ACT UP actions in Washington, D.C., including a negotiated civil disobedience at the White House.

June 28, 1987

ACT UP enters an unsolicited float at the Pride march. The “concentration camp” float, comprising people with AIDS quarantined behind barbed wire and guards with Reagan masks, catalyzes wider support and awareness for ACT UP.

 

October 11, 1987

 

Honoring those who died from HIV/AIDS, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The quilt’s more than 45,000 panels (and counting) are later digitized in 2020.


November 2–December 19, 1987

Ching Ho Cheng’s monumental installation Grotto fills the window of New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.

November 20, 1987–January 24, 1988

William “Bill” Olander invites ACT UP to create an installation in the window of the New Museum’s original location in SoHo at 583 Broadway. Featuring a neon Silence=Death sculpture, Let the Record Show … marks the formation of the artist-activist collective Gran Fury.

December 5, 1987–January 3, 1988

The Sharpe Gallery stages Jesse Murry’s first New York solo exhibition, featuring modest-sized abstract landscapes. In 1988, he receives the Mellon Individual Project Grant and the Pollock-Krasner Grant.

1988 

Visual AIDS, an organization dedicated to advocating for artists living with AIDS as well as documenting and promoting the growing body of artwork about living with AIDS, is founded by writer Robert Atkins and curators Gary Garrels, Thomas Sokolowski, and William “Bill” Olander.

April 29–May 7, 1988

The first nationwide AIDS activist event, “The Nine Days of Rain,” spans fifty cities across the US.

October 11, 1988

More than one thousand activists shut down the Food and Drug Administration during ACT UP’s “Seize Control of the FDA” action.  

1989

Gran Fury’s poster Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do appears on billboards and buses in major US cities, including New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

A photo of the first gran Fury commission for AMFAR, in June 1987.

The first Gran Fury commission for amfAR, June 28, 1989. Courtesy Avram Finkelstein

The first Gran Fury commission for amfAR, June 28, 1989. Courtesy Avram Finkelstein

Installation view, Let the Record Show …, New Museum, New York, 1987. Photo by Fred Scruton. Courtesy the New Museum

Installation view, Let the Record Show …, New Museum, New York, 1987. Photo by Fred Scruton. Courtesy the New Museum

A photo of graffiti.

Once Upon a Time bathroom mural by Keith Haring at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, New York, 1989. Photo by Dimple Patel/Alamy Stock Photo

Once Upon a Time bathroom mural by Keith Haring at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, New York, 1989. Photo by Dimple Patel/Alamy Stock Photo

ACT UP “Seize Control of the FDA” action at the Food and Drug Administration headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, October 1988. Photo by t. l. litt. © t. l. litt

ACT UP “Seize Control of the FDA” action at the Food and Drug Administration headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, October 1988. Photo by t. l. litt. © t. l. litt

A photo of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington, D.C.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Washington, D.C.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Washington, D.C.

1989

The gay and lesbian video activist collective DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activist Television), an ACT UP affinity group, is founded to preserve and disseminate ACT UP’s demonstrations, civil disobedience actions, and public reaction through video documentation.

May 25, 1989

Ching Ho Cheng dies in New York at age forty-two. Just the year before, renowned curator Henry Geldzahler had praised the artist’s work, and alluded to his promise: “With a contemporary in full career such as Ching, I suggest that the constant in his work is a feeling of awe in the face of nature and its visual equivalents, and a sense of connectedness with forces that we do not fully understand.”

May 27, 1989 

Keith Haring paints Once Upon a Time in the second-floor men’s bathroom of the LGBT Community Center.

June 12, 1989

Robert Mapplethorpe’s retrospective The Perfect Moment at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, is canceled after the conservative American Family Association declared it “indecent.” The move is met with protests outside of the museum; the culture wars over federal funding of the arts would continue to rage through the early 1990s.

A detail of a photograph by Mark Morrisroe, titled Untitled (Kato), dated 1983.

Mark Morrisroe, Untitled (Kato), 1983 (detail)

Mark Morrisroe, Untitled (Kato), 1983 (detail)

July 24, 1989

Mark Morrisroe dies in Jersey City, New Jersey, at age thirty, leaving behind more than 2,000 Polaroid photographs in his apartment.

September 14, 1989

ACT UP members chain themselves inside the New York Stock Exchange, protesting the price of AZT. Four days later, Burroughs Wellcome, the pharmaceutical giant that developed the drug, lowers the price by 20 percent, to $6,400 per year. 

 

1990s

A photo of women demonstrating for ACT UP in 1990.

Women of ACT-UP demonstrate at NIH, 1990. Photo by Donna Binder. © Donna Binder

Women of ACT-UP demonstrate at NIH, 1990. Photo by Donna Binder. © Donna Binder

1990

The book Women, AIDS & Activism, originated by the Women’s Caucus of ACT UP, is the first significant text to address women and the epidemic. The CDC wouldn’t expand its definition of AIDS to include women until 1993.

May 9–June 1, 1990

Midtown Galleries hosts Hugh Steers’s first New York solo exhibition, which features a range of the artist’s intimate figurative works grappling with the trauma and devastation of living with AIDS.

June 13, 1990

ACT UP organizes a zap at the New York Housing Authority to protest discrimination against people with AIDS (PWAs), in order to protect survivors of PWAs who are not leaseholders from being evicted after the death of their partner, roommate, or family member.

A photo of the pride ribbon parade.

The Celebrity Red Ribbon Cavalcade, 1992. Photo by Harvey Weiss. Courtesy Visual AIDS

The Celebrity Red Ribbon Cavalcade, 1992. Photo by Harvey Weiss. Courtesy Visual AIDS

A photo of the celebrity red ribbon cavalcade, dated 1992.

The Celebrity Red Ribbon Cavalcade, 1992. Photo by Harvey Weiss. Courtesy Visual AIDS

The Celebrity Red Ribbon Cavalcade, 1992. Photo by Harvey Weiss. Courtesy Visual AIDS

1991

Visual AIDS Artists Caucus launches the Red Ribbon Project to create a symbol of compassion for people living with HIV and their caregivers; it would go on to become an international symbol of AIDS awareness. The following summer, the Celebrity Ribbon Cavalcade, a street theater spectacle to raise awareness conceived by Frank Moore and Marc Happel, would debut at the Pride march.

July 16, 1991

Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied—a work unabashedly about and made for gay Black men—premieres on PBS’s P.O.V. after receiving acclaim at film festivals worldwide. The film, which was financially supported by the National Endowment for the Arts in the amount of $5,000 and broadcast on a publicly funded channel, sparks a national debate over the use of taxpayers’ dollars on artworks many considered “obscene.” 

May 16–June 28, 1992

More than seventy paintings in Derek Jarman’s solo exhibition at Manchester City Art Galleries attest to the artist’s critical engagement with the intersection of art, activism, and AIDS. The title of the show, Queer, openly defies the Margaret Thatcher–era Section 28 law that prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality.

January 14, 1993

Jesse Murry dies in New York at age forty-four.

June 1, 1993

Derek Jarman’s film Blue premieres at the 1993 Venice Biennale. The artist dies eight months later on February 19, 1994, at age fifty-two.

July 1, 1993

At his request, more than two hundred activists drive to Washington, DC, to hold a funeral for Tim Bailey in front of the White House. 

An Installation view of Derek Jarman’s Blue, 1993, taken during the final sound mix at De Lane Lea, Dean Street, London, in late 1992. Photo by Liam Daniel.

Installation view of Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993), taken during the final sound mix at De Lane Lea, Dean Street, London, in late 1992. Photo by Liam Daniel. Courtesy and © Basilisk Communications

Installation view of Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993), taken during the final sound mix at De Lane Lea, Dean Street, London, in late 1992. Photo by Liam Daniel. Courtesy and © Basilisk Communications

A photo by Donna binder of Jon Greenberg's funeral in Tompkins Square Park, dated 1993.

Jon Greenberg’s Funeral, Tompkins Square Park, July 16, 1993. Photo by Donna Binder. © Donna Binder

Jon Greenberg’s Funeral, Tompkins Square Park, July 16, 1993. Photo by Donna Binder. © Donna Binder

April 5, 1994

Marlon Riggs dies in Oakland, California, at age thirty-seven, before completing Black Is … Black Ain’t. The feature film would be completed posthumously and released the following year.

March 1, 1995

Hugh Steers dies in New York at age thirty-two. In one of his last interviews, he explained of his work, “This isn’t ‘AIDS’ art.… Art in itself isn’t very interesting.… What’s interesting is how art engages our humanity.”

1996

Due to more accessible antiretroviral drugs, new AIDS cases reportedly decline for the first time since the beginning of the epidemic. 

November 9, 1996–January 4, 1997

Frank Moore, Geoffrey Hendricks, and Sur Rodney (Sur) curate A Living Testament of the Blood Fairies at Artists Space, New York. A companion exhibition of artists’ books and related projects is on view at Printed Matter from January 7 to March 1, 1997.

December 1997

Robert Penn, a member of Other Countries, publishes The Gay Men’s Wellness Guide, featuring sections on body image, aging, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS, hepatitis B, safe sex, steroids, bisexuality, domestic violence, and more.

October 1998

At the behest of Black leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, President Bill Clinton declares HIV/AIDS a health crisis in Black communities.

2000–21

 

A photo of a protest against removing a David Wojnarowicz video from a National Portrait Gallery show.

A protest against removing a David Wojnarowicz video titled A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, 2010. Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

A protest against removing a David Wojnarowicz video titled A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, 2010. Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

A photo of the Tacoma Action collective protesting in 2015.

Tacoma Action Collective in protest, 2015

Tacoma Action Collective in protest, 2015

April 21, 2002

Frank Moore dies in New York at age forty-eight, just a few weeks before his major retrospective opens at the Orlando Museum of Art. The survey later travels to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo (2002–2003).

November 2010

Artists and activists around the world respond to the censorship and removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition.

November 23, 2010

A National Institutes of Health study finds that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection.

2012

The Frank Moore Archive project is re-launched online as the Visual AIDS Artists+ Registry providing a forum for HIV+ visual artists to display and share their work with viewers worldwide and an opportunity for estates of artists lost to AIDS to preserve their work. 

A photo of the Silence=Death slogan in the window of the Leslie-Lohman Museum in 2017.

Silence=Death site-specific facade installation, 2017. Photo by Timothy Schenck, 2017. Courtesy the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art

Silence=Death site-specific facade installation, 2017. Photo by Timothy Schenck, 2017. Courtesy the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art

2015

An intergenerational group of people comes together to discuss experiences around the ongoing AIDS crisis, forming the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective.

December 17, 
2015


“Stop Erasing Black People” is the rallying cry of the Tacoma Action Collective during a protest of the touring exhibition Art AIDS America at the Tacoma Art Museum.


June 2017

To commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Silence=Death poster, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art installs the iconic image in their SoHo windows, adding the tagline: “Be Vigilant. Refuse. Resist”. 

June 2017

The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, debuts the Visual Arts and AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, which includes forty interviews with artists and other cultural workers living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS.

May 13, 2021

 

Based on nearly two hundred interviews with ACT UP members, Sarah Schulman's book Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 is the most comprehensive political history assembled of ACT UP and American AIDS activism.

Gregg Bordowitz opens his solo exhibition I Wanna Be Well at MoMA PS1.  The central work in the show reads: “The AIDS Crisis is Still Beginning.”

An installation view of a work by Gregg Bordowitz, titled The AIDS Crisis is Still Beginning, at MoMA PS1 in New York, in 2021.

Installation view of Gregg Bordowitz, The AIDS Crisis Is Still Beginning (2021), in the exhibition Gregg Bordowitz: I Wanna Be Well on view at MoMA PS1, New York, from May 13 to October 11, 2021. Photo by Kyle Knodell. Courtesy the artist and MoMA PS1

Installation view of Gregg Bordowitz, The AIDS Crisis Is Still Beginning (2021), in the exhibition Gregg Bordowitz: I Wanna Be Well on view at MoMA PS1, New York, from May 13 to October 11, 2021. Photo by Kyle Knodell. Courtesy the artist and MoMA PS1

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