AIDS, according to Jonathan Katz, co-curator of Art AIDS America, which opened Dec. 1 at the Alphawood Gallery, "is sadly still the 'third rail' of American art."
Katz spoke Dec. 3 at a presentation that contextualized the exhibit, which will be open through April. Much of the work there, he noted, was created at a time when right-wing elements were aggressively surveilling arts organizations for work that normalized HIV/AIDS, homosexuality or intravenous drug use. The mainstream arts worldwhich is normally quite conservative and staidwas at best apathetic to the plague, he said.
"No wonder so much AIDS art doesn't look like AIDS art," Katz said.
He made the further argument that so much of the art on display at the exhibition did not represent tangential modes of representation; rather, he said it constituted a historical mode of development in the arts.
The artists, Katz added, "were thinking about representational forces strategically, [thus performing] a complicated calculus about socio-political readings."
Acknowledgement that these works constituted a significant point in the evolution the art world was one of Katz's key goals in mounting the exhibition, he said, adding that similar strategies might be called for if the current government takes a more reactionary turn. He noted, however, that whatever political art is created in the years ahead needs to have its own distinctive voices.
"We need new thoughts for activism calculated to our historical circumstances," he added. "If ever we needed to do it, it's now."
Katz's talk was preceded by a spoken-word performance from avery r. young.