34 x 22 inches
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Text at bottom reads: “©1987 THE SILENCE = DEATH PROJECT. Used by permission by ACT UP, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, 135 West 29th St., #10, NYC 10001”
Spawning from ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1988, Gran Fury was an AIDS activist artist collective from New York City consisting of 11 members including: Richard Elovich, Avram Finkelstein, Amy Heard, Tom Kalin, John Lindell, Loring McAlpin, Marlene McCarty, Donald Moffett, Michael Nesline, Mark Simpson, and Robert Vazquez. The participation of “visual artists in ACT UP and other collectives was essential to the effectiveness of the campaigns of protest, education and awareness about AIDS.” The collective mutually disbanded in 1995, a year prior to Mark Simpson’s death on November 10, 1996 from AIDS. Gran Fury organized as an autonomous collective, describing themselves as a “…band of individuals united in anger and dedicated to exploiting the power of art to end the AIDS crisis.” The contribution of recycling historical images of homoerotic pleasure contributed to the pictorial landscape of the AIDS activist movement. By recycling the title of the Plymouth sedan used by the NYPD, Richard Meyer writes “inscribed within the group’s name…” references “…both a subjective experience (rage) and a tool of State power (police squad cars), to both an internal sensation and an external force.” Action, not art, was the aim of the collective. Producing posters and agitprop in alliance with ACT UP to accompany the larger group’s demonstration, Adam Rolston and Douglas Crimp articulate how Gran Fury served as ACT UP’s “unofficial propaganda ministry and guerrilla graphic designers.”
In July 1987, William Olander (1950-1989), an ACTUP member and curator of the New Museum in New York City, invited ACTUP to make an installation in “…the window by the museum entrance on Broadway”. A neon SILENCE=DEATH symbol crowned the display, with a pink triangle below. The pink triangle was appropriated from the Nazi marker for gay men imprisoned at death camps furthering the analogy between the AIDS crisis and the Holocaust. The neon piece became part of the New Museum’s permanent collection, and the SILENCE = DEATH graphic was widely disseminated through T-shirts, wheat-pastes, and other printed ephemera. The graphic was a reaction to an 1985 editorial in The New York Times written by William F. Buckley, as well as the silence by the Reagan government. Entitled “Let the Record Show” the work featured cardboard silhouettes of six public figures—televangelist Jerry Falwell, columnist William F. Buckley Jr., US Senator Jesse Helms, Cory Servaas of the Presidential AIDS Commission, an anonymous surgeon, and the Gipper, President Ronald Reagan—posited as AIDS criminals and set against a mural-sized photograph of the Nuremberg trials. Concrete slabs positioned under each figure offered evidence of their crimes, from misrepresentations of AIDS to ignoring the issue altogether as in the case of Reagan’s notorious public silence, in the form of personal quotes. One reacted, for example, to a 1986 editorial in The New York Times by notorious arch-conservative William Buckley, who proposed that all persons with AIDS “…should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to protect the victimization of other homosexuals.”
G.E.Work by Silence=Death Collective (later Gran Fury)