Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project  

By the Archives

June 16, 2016

Funded by the Keith Haring Foundation

Keith Haring Poster Detail
Poster (Detail), Keith Haring: Tony Shafrazi Gallery/Leo Castelli Gallery, 1985; Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

 

Poster, Keith Haring: Tony Shafrazi Gallery/Leo Castelli Gallery, 1985; Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

In 2015, the Archives of American Art received support from the Keith Haring Foundation to produce a series of in-depth oral history interviews with key witnesses to the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the visual art community. In selecting these narrators and their interviewers, the Archives worked with an advisory committee comprised of artists and advocates familiar with and active in the New York art community during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Subjects are primarily New York City-based.

Many who have been lost maintain an enduring presence in the art world through their work—Joe Brainard, Félix González-Torres, Keith Haring, Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, and David Wojnarowicz to name only a few.  We are left to wonder how their work would have developed and how much more they might have done had they lived.  Even more artists were lost before they had the chance to make a wide-reaching mark, and they embody the undiscovered artistic potential that is one of many tragedies of the AIDS epidemic.  In an effort to preserve the stories of those who have died, subjects talk about their relationships with figures who are no longer with us, but whose stories either continue to resonate or call for inclusion in the art world. 

While there have been many documentaries, films, exhibitions, and books chronicling the AIDS epidemic, none has focused on in-depth, firsthand accounts of key figures in the visual arts—telling the larger story in their own words.  The Archives of American Art’s oral history project is the first to secure comprehensive life histories of artists and colleagues who lived through the height of the epidemic, and who understand the impact that AIDS had on visual art in America.  Important areas of focus among the larger life stories include the ways--direct and indirect--in which AIDS touched the personal life of the subject, if and how AIDS changed each subject’s work, and what is the continuing impact of the epidemic on each subject today.

For further information about this project, contact:

Liza Kirwin, Deputy Director, Archives of American Art, KirwinL@si.edu