Viral Representation: On AIDS and Art, held in conjunction with the exhibition Art AIDS America at the Alphawood Gallery, brings together scholars, artists, collectors, and curators to address how artists have responded to, and reflected on, AIDS in America.
Artistic responses to AIDS encompassed an enormous range of modes of political address, ranging from the aggressively activist to the most subtle forms of innuendo. On one side, these artistic choices were informed by a rising Christian Right in government that successfully instrumentalized homophobic, AIDS-phobic discourse to legislate discrimination. On the other side, in an art world under the sway of postmodernist ideals that denigrated the expressive possibilities of any form of authorship, the politics of AIDS art was equally subject to erasure. Pressed from two sides, AIDS artists had an uncomfortable choice between an activism that was not taken seriously as sophisticated art, and a serious art that had to camouflage its activist intent.
In presentations that draw from art history, performance studies, and more, conference participants will address issues such as why artists created work which implicitly rather than explicitly addressed AIDS, the afterlives of AIDS activism, and how AIDS changed American art. An artist panel will look at a broad range of artistic strategies during the worst years of the plague. The conference will also seek to address the current political climate, which demands asking questions of political strategy with a vigor reminiscent of the early years of AIDS activism.
Sponsored by the Alphawood Foundation, the Reva and David Logan Center Arts and Department of Art History at the University of Chicago.