Art and activism have been intimately engaged throughout contemporary art history, reiterating the notion that the personal is political. In 2007, Art:21’s Season 4 addressed activist strategies (in particular, the politics of war) in “Protest,” which included Jenny Holzer, Alfredo Jaar, An-My Lê, and Nancy Spero. A new investigation of art and activism (in this case, the AIDS crisis) can currently be seen in SIDE X SIDE, an exhibition curated by Dean Daderko for Visual AIDS on view through August 3, 2008 at La MaMa La Galleria in the East Village.
With works from the 1980s to the present by Scott Burton, Kate Huh, Nicholas Moufarrege, Martin Wong, and Carrie Yamaoka, Daderko’s project is rooted in the history of the 1980s in New York City where more than 10,000 people were diagnosed with AIDS in 1986. Between 1986 and 1991 there were numerous exhibitions, conferences, and artworks about AIDS in New York, while activist groups such as ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and Visual AIDS worked to educate the public and insist on medical research and treatment. Art21 artist Oliver Herring (Season 3) has also made works related to AIDS, in particular A Flower for Ethyl Eichelberger (1991) a tribute to the performance artist who committed suicide in 1990 after discovering that he had AIDS.
One of the most noted exhibitions about the politics of AIDS was Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing (a 1989 review of the show can be found in the New York Times on-line) organized by artist Nan Goldin at Artists Space in 1989. The show highlighted a group of artists living in the lower east side of Manhattan who were directly affected by AIDS. Daderko’s project is a sobering reminder of this history as well as a tribute to those who have been lost to this vicious disease. Further details and upcoming events related to SIDE X SIDE can be found on the Visual AIDS website.