Monday, November 10, 2014

Act Up Art Box

[Various Artists]
Act Up Art Box 
New York City, USA: Act Up, 1994
35.56 x 60.96 x 10.16 cm
Edition of 95 (with 10 A.P.s)

A maple, birch, aluminum and chrome box containing seven objects, produced as a fund-raiser for ACT UP, a "diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis".

The contents include untitled works by Ross Bleckner, Kiki Smith, Lorna Simpson and Louise Bourgeois, Hibernating Egg: Postoperative State by Mike Kelley, Approaching by Simon Leung and To The Revolution (the cover image), by Nancy Spero. The colophon is signed by each artist, and the Spero and Smith pieces are additionally signed.

Recent auction prices range from $2250 to $6875.00 US. Printed Matter has a copy for sale for $3500 US, here.

"Finding them all shacked up together, one considers the seven objects in the ACT UP Art Box collectively. Beyond a shared show of support--each artist donated his or her work to benefit ACT UP--what connects these disparate things? The avian imagery (Ross Bleckner, Mike Kelley and Lorna Simpson's works all involve birds), fragile materials (Simpson and Kiki Smith both use glass) and grotesqueries of these ofjects (Louise Bourgeois, Simon Leung, and Smith each detail unidealized aspects of the body, put to dance by Nacy Spero) all add up to the time-honored notion of memento mori. As reminders of the organic ephemeralness of life against the sure passage of time and certainty of death, this motif fittingly commemorates people with AIDS. But given the aegis of their assembly, an organization actively, dramatically, even rudely, committed to ending this health crisis--these objects must contain more than pathos.

Anger is frowned upon in decent society. In the conventional breakdown of mind and body, intellect and emotion, culture and nature, anger falls into the latter, distictly feminine cast of attributes. It thus becomes the property of all disenfranchised persons--the property we are all taught to hide. But anger's indecorousness is also what makes it patently anti-social and potentially radical. Members of the lesbian and gay communites realized this when they "allied in anger" to found ACT UP in March of 1987.

Think of anger, first quietly projected in the picture of a man skating the Rockefeller Center rink during the holiday season carrying a sign protesting homelessness of people with AIDS. Now imagine some outrageous outburst, like the funeral last July for Jon Greenberg, who died of AIDS. His coffin was carried through the streets of the East Village; his own ironic epitah read, "I don't want an angry political funeral. I just want you to burn me in the street and eat my flesh." That it doesn't get much more distasteful is exactly ACT UP's position: AIDS is not acceptable.

Now open the ACT UP Art Box. Begin with the slow rage of frustration that curls up from Leung's post-modern veil of St. Veronica: a silk scarf imprinted after the facial oils left by art pilgrims as they press against the door of Marcel Duchamp's manipulative last work, Étant Donnés (1946-66), to look through a peephole at a diorama of rape. Kelley and Smith also go in for acts of violation. With a cork shoved into a crude gash and putty pushed into a tiny incision, Kelley's wooden egg--the absurd rejoinder to, "Egg, heal thyself"--comes doubly domaged and twice repaired, ready to be hurled, like a grenade. In a photograph of one of her sculptures, Smith protrays flayed anatomy made out of meat and clay. Conversely her delicate glass flower evokes the symbolic shatter anticipated (almost audibly) by Simpson's pair of tenuous glass wishbones. The image of Bleckner's feathered friend dipped in tar is not only poignant but sadistic--a frightening token of the ease with which our culture flies to protect animal--as opposed to human--life. While Bourgeois and Spero both work in idioms of sensuous subversion, Bourgeois's willfully perverse pink rubber testicles and phallic smear (with its faintly industrial odor) joins an entire iconography of psyco-sexual amputees. Equally characteristic is Spero's ruinous frieze, a chorus of women moving to the sound of an omimous incantation, "let the priests tremble, we're going to show them our sexts!"* Having lined the halls of so many artworld Valhallas with these Sapphic alternatives to classical constructs of art and identity, it seems only fitting that Spero's agitprop muses adorn the exterior of each ACT UP Art Box.

Filled up and closed shut, this box is no casket of artistic curios, but a toolbox, beautifully equipped with exquisite implements of anger, fine instruments of change."

- Ingrid Schaffner, March 1994 [inside enclosure]

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