In 1981, a rare pneumonia identified among five previously healthy gay men began the AIDS crisis. A decade already inundated with political turmoil and dominated by conservative political policy would become marked by great loss, and the gay body politic marked by disease. At the intersection of AIDS and the Bush-era culture wars, there emerged not only a crisis in public health but in representation. Artists and activists responded.
“Militant Eroticism,” curated by John Neff and Dr. Daniel Berger, is focused on the output of one such activist ensemble: ART+ Positive, an ACT-UP affinity group organized in 1989. Assembled from the ART+ Positive archive, “Militant Eroticism” displays a range of content across an implied timeline in the east gallery, including ephemera and signage from the group’s well-attended 1990 demonstration on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum. A work desk and scanner are centered in the space, and the archives are stored in situ. Berger refers to this space as a “lab,” rather than a fixed exhibition scenario, as the archive will be digitized and studied during the run of the exhibition.
In the west gallery, a partial restaging of “Army of Lovers,” (1990) features a series of photographs by a then blind and dying Ray Navarro. Facilitated by the aid of Zoe Leonard, the photographs emphasize the dynamism of coalition and the necessity of “affinity” during the politically heated height of the crisis. Framed in fleshy pink, and accompanied by playful, horny title attributions, these black-and-white photographs of prosthetics belie lack and become striking articulations of the relentless body.
“Militant Eroticism” is among a group of recent Iceberg exhibitions that emphasize the shared field of trauma and recuperation addressed in the output of both studio and activist artists working at the height of the AIDS crisis. Twenty-five years later, the politics of practice and the practice of politics remain vital concerns. (Collin Pressler)
Through June 27 at Iceberg Projects, 7714 North Sheridan.