PRINT April 2003


1988: Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self-Portraits

BACK IN THE EARLY ’80s, AIDS seemed as much rumor as reality; I can remember going to parties and hearing scattered complaints of strange, unpleasant symptoms that were terrifyingly resistant to diagnosis. Soon, however, a plague lurched into view, and its profile was monstrous. There was the implicit understanding that the virus was targeting (or, for the conspiracy minded, targeted at) the urban gay male community. Adding to the horror of a seemingly unstoppable disease was the toothy satisfaction of the Christian Right that the wicked were receiving their biblical due. With remarkable dispatch, the AIDS pandemic came to dominate the sociosexual identity of the United States. In the arts, the toll was all too quickly visible and AIDS research became the cause du jour. The disease also activated the queer art community (gay suddenly sounded too passive); ACT UP attracted—and created—artists,

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