Martin Wong, King of Pain, 1997-98, Acrylic on canvas, 30×48 inches. Courtesy of P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York.
Scott Burton Kate Huh Nicholas Moufarrege Martin Wong Carrie Yamaoka
Curated by Dean Daderko for Visual AIDS
Curator’s Talk Saturday, July 26, 2-3 PM At La MaMa La Galleria
Reading Monday, August 4, 6:30-8 PM At La MaMa La Galleria Kate Huh, Sara Marcus & Eileen Myles
SIDE X SIDE includes works by Scott Burton, Kate Huh, Nicholas Moufarrege, Martin Wong and Carrie Yamaoka. The exhibition considers the impact of AIDS on a generation of artists faced with the onset of the epidemic. Beginning around 1980, as the first cases of what we now know as HIV were being diagnosed, the arts community in particular was hit hard, and once again artists were first responders to crisis. In the face of confusion and terror, artists engaged and responded with decisive urgency to the needs of their communities, sharing information and productively affecting change through non-traditional modes of activism. This exhibition is not about AIDS per se. These artists allude to the epidemic in ways both direct and more nuanced. Their practices run parallel to a collective cultural catastrophe that intersects with many societal injustices and crises. SIDE X SIDE shows these artists’ works over time, with an acute awareness of crisis and its impact on them.
In the 70s, equal rights movements initiated by women, queers, blacks, Latinos, and other minorities proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the personal is political. By the 80s, paradigms shifted once again. As the artistic community took the representation of the epidemic into its own hands, mainstream media began to pay more attention. “The AIDS movement, like other radical movements, creates itself as it attempts to represent itself,” wrote Gregg Bordowitz in 1988. The voices of people with AIDS were now being heard. In addition, groups like ACT UP and fierce pussy (of which Carrie Yamaoka was a founding member) were instrumental in bringing change and transforming societal attitudes in a world that is not without its prejudices. Moreover, artists provided vital information to people in the streets. Activist tendencies followed some artists into their studios, where they told more personal stories. Scott Burton’s rare performances “focus on an essentially hidden language system, which in day-to-day experience is drowned out by a barrage of verbal distraction,” wrote Michael Auping, then curator of MATRIX at the University Art Museum in Berkeley, California. Video documentation of INDIVIDUAL BEHAVIOR TABLEAUX is joined here by a selection of Burton’s furniture works, which pointedly blur distinctions of genre and function in favor of a more democratic, porous system of identification.
Kate Huh’s unique Xerox prints, stop-motion animations, collaged notebooks, and zines originate from her experience working in a copy shop in the East Village from her late teens to her late 20s. Definitively and defiantly analog—Huh, for instance, would often yank the copy machine plug from its socket in mid-print to attain desired results—these works evidence an artist defining herself and sharing her joy in agency with her audience. Continuing into the present, Rebel Fux, Huh’s ongoing zine project (1996-present3), marries exquisite collage work with ruminations on pains, pleasures, and imagined futures.
Nicholas Moufarrege’s cross-stitched paintings are an affirmative combination of pop culture references, homoerotic desires, and a blending of social and political commentary, as he put it “East and West, Michaelangelo and the Sheik of Araby, Coca Cola and the Eiffel Tower, Mishima, Edgar Allen Poe and Baudelaire with Lewis Carroll and Nietzsche.” His works, now as well as then, address the postmodern condition with shimmering clarity. Moufarrege’s work remains uniquely striking and fresh, even 20 years later.
Martin Wong’s paintings, enlivened with swirling brushwork and precise graphic details, “laced internally with a pathology of sensual ambivalence…are secret vehicles of personal fantasy confined within the matter-of-fact.” From images of bombed out Alphabet City apartment buildings, painted brick by detailed brick, to cruising scenarios enacted by out-of-the-ring boxers, and images of Chinatown that “cannot be so neatly assimilated into a celebration of cultural identity,” Wong’s paintings are symbolically charged and rife with ambiguous possibility. The paintings’ return to the neighborhoods they depict presents new layers of narrative and social commentary.
Carrie Yamaoka’s works resist description and topical categorization with fluid ease. The selection of her works for SIDE X SIDE includes the early, text-based Archipelagoes, 1993-94, as well as stripped and treated glass and mirror works created both before and after it. Alongside these are more recent works combining reflective Mylar with poured, occasionally pigmented, resin. Her objects hover in a space between paintings, mirrors, and a viewer’s reflected image. These same objects are present at the perceived limits of their fields, maintaining a constant and ceaseless flow of information and experience for their viewers. Yamaoka’s work helps us to consider the physical and conceptual limits of the body, even as it surpasses them.
The careers of some artists in this exhibition have been sadly cut short. Though Scott Burton (1939-1989), Nicholas Moufarrege (1947-1985), and Martin Wong (1946-1999) are no longer physically present with us, I can only imagine that they would be inspired by and engaged with the artwork and calls-to-arms of their peers Kate Huh and Carrie Yamaoka. I dedicate this exhibition to all of them, and to the individuals whose passing and continued action profoundly alters our cultural landscape. Ours is a moment in which the gravity of the AIDS crisis remains undiminished.
Dean Daderko New York, 2008
1. Bordowitz, Gregg, “Picture a Coalition.” AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism. Ed. Douglas Crimp. Boston: MIT Press, 1988. P 195.
2. Auping, Michael, “Scott Burton: INDIVIDUAL BEHAVIOR TABLEAUX.” Berkeley: University Art Musuem, 1980.
3. Copies of Kate Huh’s Rebel Fux, reprinted for this exhibition, are offered free to the public. Full sets of Rebel Fux, some 26 issues in all, are available for a limited time for a donation of $60, with all proceeds benefiting Visual AIDS. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
4. As part of Visual AIDS’s free distribution of artist commissions addressing HIV/AIDS (a project called Broadsides), a new Kate Huh 8 ½ x 11” poster is available at La Galleria during SIDE X SIDE, and as a downloadable PDF at visualaids.org.
5. Moufarrege, Nicholas, “Art is…” Nicholas A. Moufarrege. New York: The Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc./The Clocktower, 1987. P 7.
6. McCormick, Carlo, “An Existential Frame.” Sweet Oblivion: The Urban Landscape of Martin Wong. Ed. Amy Scholder. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998. P 71.
7. Yee, Lydia, “Martin Wong’s Picture-Perfect Chinatown.” Ibid. P 55.