AIDS at Home: An Exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York

Written by | Art & Design, HIV

Bath Curtain

Bath Curtain by Hugh Steers

An exhibition showcases art that explores the early years of the epidemic from a very personal perspective.

As the AIDS crisis unfolded during its early decades, even the hidden spaces of domestic life became sites of showing resistance and proving resilience for New York City activists and artists. Often out of necessity, homes became places for community support, political action,and creative possibility.

A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York elucidates the compassion and ingenuity of New Yorkers supporting people living with HIV and AIDS. AIDS at Home features paintings, sculpture, photos and video — alongside archival objects from activist groups and support programs — that illustrate oft-untold intimate stories of HIV and AIDS.

“AIDS at Home humanizes a dark chapter in the city’s history by shedding light on the emotional bonds forged in times of crisis, as well as the activist and creative responses born of necessity,” says Whitney Donhauser, who is the Museum’s Ronay Menschel Director.

History Is In the Details

Separated into three distinct sections, the exhibition escorts visitors through the first two decades of the epidemic, focusing on caretaking networks, housing and homelessness and family and kinship. The exhibition includes works from more than 20 artists — including those well-known, emerging, and newly discovered — as well as contributions from activist and support groups.

“The idea of the show is to really look at HIV and AIDS through a new lens, focusing on home,” says curator Stephen Vider. “A lot of the history that is primarily circulated about HIV and AIDS focuses on public activism, public representation and medical history. Looking at HIV and AIDS through the lens of home allows us to get more personal stories.”

A portion of the exhibition focuses specifically on caretaking efforts, including Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ groundbreaking “buddy” program and the work of God’s Love We Deliver. There are also tributes to the organizations that emerged in response to the crisis, such as Housing Works, and reflections on gentrification and conditions within city-funded housing. As a whole, the space exudes an aura of cozy familiarity: the walls adorned with wallpaper and moldings created by artists to reflect a homelike setting.

Lest We Forget

“We recognize that for many people coming to the museum, this is a history that is deeply personal and emotional, so we wanted to create a space that would feel like home so that people would feel comfortable accessing these memories,” he says.

Vider curated the exhibition as he worked on his first book, Queer Belongings: Gay Men, Lesbians and the Politics of Home After WWII ( for University of Chicago Press), which delves into the history of home, LGBT life and politics.

As visitors make their way to the end of the exhibition, they are presented with a new original documentary that examines the stories of three activists and artists working today. “That film brings this history to the present,” Vider says. “I really want visitors to come away with a new understanding of HIV and AIDS as an ongoing history, and one that at this moment is often under-discussed … and to feel closer to the history than they have before, to understand the intimate impact of HIV and AIDS and how the illness can be worsened by stigma and silence.”

AIDS at Home is at the Museum of the City of New York now through October 22. For more info, visit mcny.org.

Last modified: August 17, 2017

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