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From the Streets to the Gallery: Exhibiting the Visual Ephemera of AIDS Cultural Activism

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Recent curatorial attention to AIDS cultural activism and its attendant queer and feminist public art practices has highlighted issues surrounding the display of visual ephemera generating questions such as how can materials made for the street be displayed in a gallery setting? What, if any, contextualization is required? How are activist practices transformed when they become materials in an archive? Different curatorial strategies have included the presentation of original posters from the personal archives of activists (ACT UP New York: Activism, Art and the AIDS Crisis 1987–1993, 2009 and 2010) to the reprinting and enlargement of graphic designs originally utilized as posters, billboards and demonstration placards (Gran Fury: Read My Lips, 2012). Each of these exhibitions relied upon an archival aesthetic, but towards different ends: ACT UP New York organized its archive in affective terms, while Gran Fury: Read My Lips created a sociocultural presentation. This article compares these two exhibitions, and the curatorial strategies each devised in order to represent and animate the ephemera of AIDS cultural activism.
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Keywords: ACT UP New York; AIDS activism; Gran Fury: Read My Lips; archives; exhibitions of ephemera; queer art

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Publication date: February 1, 2013

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Curatorial Studies is an international, peer-reviewed publication that explores the cultural functioning of curating and its relation to exhibitions, institutions, audiences, aesthetics and display culture. The journal takes a wide perspective in the inquiry into what constitutes "the curatorial." Curating has evolved considerably from the connoisseurship model of arranging objects to now encompass performative, virtual and interventionist strategies. While curating as a spatialized discourse of art objects remains important, the expanded cultural practice of curating not only produces exhibitions for audiences to view, but also plays a catalytic role in redefining aesthetic experience, framing cultural conditions in institutions and communities, and inquiring into constructions of knowledge and ideology.
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