New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art has added new wall text about David Wojnarowicz’s membership in AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, better known as ACT UP, to the artist’s critically acclaimed retrospective. Since the launch of the critically acclaimed show in July, ACT UP has staged two demonstrations at the museum, drawing attention to the fact that the AIDS crisis is ongoing, not a historical event.
On Saturday, ACT UP Tweeted a photograph of the updated label, for the 1990 screenprint , calling it a “major victory.” The group had criticized what they characterized as the museum’s failure to inform visitors adequately about AIDS in 2018, and the continued efforts to combat the disease. Previously, the exhibition did not mention Wojnarowicz’s involvement with ACT UP, and the 1990 work, which was created to benefit ACT UP, had been accompanied by “only the barest description,” according to a statement by the group.
Despite the fact that Wojnarowicz died of AIDS and often addressed the illness in his work, “[the exhibition] does not make explicit connections to the present AIDS crisis within the exhibit,” wrote the group. “In an otherwise excellent exhibit, this is an oversight that falls into a pattern of arts institutions historicizing the activism of the past even when there are almost identical contemporary struggles.”
The label was updated last week, in response to an ACT UP protest at the Whitney on July 27, in which members held up recent articles about AIDS, formatted in the style of exhibition text, next to Wojnarowicz’s work.
“We have been in dialogue with ACT UP and are grateful to them for bringing their issues to our attention,” a representative of the museum told artnet News in an email. “We feel deep affinity with those concerns and welcome the opportunity to bring more awareness to the ongoing AIDS pandemic.”
The new text includes the group’s rallying cry, “AIDS is Not Over,” noting that “AIDS and HIV continue to affect individuals and communities throughout the world, disproportionately people of color.” It also describes last month’s demonstration by ACT UP, including a link where visitors can read a selection of the news articles displayed during the action, on the exhibition website.
“These articles join a number of videos, interviews, resources about HIV and AIDS, and other writings that we had previously posted in our desire to extend the conversation about Wojnarowicz, his work, and the ongoing AIDS crisis,” explained the museum representative, noting that the new label “was added thanks to the concerns raised by ACT UP, but not written with them.”
Following discussions with the Whitney, members of ACT UP returned to the museum on Saturday—”this time as our guests,” said the spokesperson. Members again held up current news articles about AIDS and HIV, and spoke with visitors about the current work being done to fight the disease.