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A member of ACT UP New York demonstrates at the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition “David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night.” Photo: ACT UP.

Whitney Museum Alters Wall Text for David Wojnarowicz Exhibit, Following Protest

Shortly after the New York chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) convened at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s David Wojnarowicz retrospective to protest its alleged framing of the HIV/AIDS crisis as a historical event and not an ongoing crisis, the institution modified its wall text to address the activists’ concerns.

Organizers of the first action, which took place on Friday, July 27, also criticized the show, “History Keeps Me Awake at Night,” curated by David Breslin and David Kiehl, for not mentioning Wojnarowicz’s involvement with ACT UP—the artist was an active member of the advocacy group before he passed away in 1992. “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 group wrote on their website.

Since the protest, ACT UP has been in conversation with staff at the museum, which invited the group to hold another demonstration to continue informing the institution’s visitors about current HIV/AIDS issues. Among the updates the Whitney made to the exhibition is a new description accompanying Untitled (ACT UP), a screen print that Wojnarowicz made in 1990.

The work’s label now reads: “As early as 1988, ACT UP used the rallying cry ‘the AIDS crisis is not over’ to keep HIV and AIDS in the forefront of politics and culture. HIV and AIDS continue to affect individuals and communities throughout the world, disproportionately people of color.” It also informs the public of ACT UP’s action at the museum and includes a link to articles pertaining to the difficulties people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS face today that the protesters had printed out for the protest.

On Saturday, ACT UP called the new text a “major victory” on its Twitter account, however, it plans to continue engaging with the Whitney in hopes of inspiring additional changes. “Seeing the new statement on Untitled (ACT UP) was rewarding,” activist and ACT UP member Ariel Friedlander said in a statement provided to Artnet. “However, it is just a first step, and we are hopeful that this dialogue will result in lasting changes towards the way AIDS is addressed by all art institutions. We would like more to be done besides just the small caption on the one artwork, and we will be meeting with the Whitney to further education, outreach, and curation ideas.”

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