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Response to HIV/AIDS Crisis in NYC Examines How Artists and Activists Reshaped Ideas of Family and Domestic Life

AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism

at the Museum of the City of New York

 Groundbreaking Exhibition Sheds New Light on

Response to HIV/AIDS Crisis in NYC Examines How Artists and Activists Reshaped

Ideas of Family and Domestic Life


Susan Kuklin, “Kachin and Michael in Michael’s Apartment,” 1987. © Susan Kuklin.

 ON VIEW: Tuesday, May 23 – Sunday, October 2

 The Museum of the City of New York presents AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism, a compelling examination of how artists and activists have expanded the idea of caretaking and family while navigating the political stakes of domestic life in the face of the HIV/AIDS crisis from the early 1980s to the present. From the earliest diagnoses, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has spurred New Yorkers to create new forms of social support, identify new legal battles, and express themselves in new artistic terrain. The exhibition places paintings, photography, and film alongside archival objects from activist groups and support programs to uncover the private stories of HIV and AIDS and reconsider caretaking, community building, and making art as acts of resistance.

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,” said Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. “New York has always demonstrated resiliency in the face of adversity and this exhibition puts that defining characteristic on display in deeply personal terms.”

Scientists first identified AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in 1981 among a group of young gay men in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, who were all diagnosed with pneumonia or Kaposi sarcoma, a rare skin cancer. The underlying cause of AIDS—the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV—was discovered two years later, and knowledge about prevention, testing, and treatment slowly expanded. Nevertheless, between 1981 and 1996, over 67,000 people in New York City alone died from medical complications related to AIDS, with the highest impact among gay men and poor communities of color. Social stigma around same-sex sexuality, drug use, poverty, and illness itself only worsened the effects of the virus. People living with HIV/AIDS were often isolated, and medical costs, job loss, insurance restrictions, and rent regulations frequently prevented access to sufficient care and stable housing.

“HIV/AIDS and the responses to it, past and present, have fundamentally reshaped the way New Yorkers and Americans think about domestic life and family. Many histories of the AIDS crisis in NYC emphasize public activism and medical innovation, but an enormous part of this history has unfolded outside of public view, in people’s own homes,” said Curator Stephen Vider. “Looking at HIV/AIDS through the lens of home reveals a largely untold story and changes our understanding of the epidemic; both who is impacted and what counts as activism. The exhibition showcases the unique creativity and ingenuity of New Yorkers working to support people living with HIV/AIDS, and speaks to ongoing challenges and debates around healthcare and housing as it plays out in the city.”

Divided into three thematic sections, as well as a coda looking at responses to HIV/AIDS in the present, and featuring over 50 works of art, AIDS at Home takes visitors on a journey tracing the first two decades of the epidemic through the continuing impact of HIV/AIDS today on everyday life in New York City today. Works on display – ranging from paintings, drawings, and photographs to sculpture, installations, and textile art, as well as posters, fliers, and films – include items from Fales Library at New York University, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the New York Public Library, as well as private art galleries and artists. The exhibition also features a documentary, A Place in the City: Three Stories about AIDS at Home, produced by the Museum of the City of New York, looking at experiences of HIV/AIDS today through portraits of three activists and artists.

Section I. Caretaking

One of the earliest responses to the epidemic was the creation of caretaking networks to address the immediate material and emotional needs of people living with AIDS. Often friends and lovers provided care, but as more and more people died, many people living with AIDS were left isolated and without financial support. This section examines caretaking efforts, including Gay Men’s Health Crisis’s pioneering “buddy” program, God’s Love We Deliver, as well as works of sculpture, painting, and photography.

Section 2: Housing and Homelessness

The AIDS epidemic also led to a spike in homelessness as people living with AIDS lost or were pushed out of their apartments through evictions after the death of partners, job loss, poverty stemming from medical bills, and gentrification. A 1989 report, titled AIDS: The Cutting Edge of Homelessness estimated that there were at that time 5,000 to 8,000 people with AIDS who were homeless at the time and expected as many as 15,000 to 25,000 more in the following three to five years. This section looks at the variety of organizations that emerged in response including Housing Works, an advocacy group which emerged out of ACT UP. Other works of art in the section reflect on gentrification and conditions within city-funded supportive housing.

 Section 3: Family

The early AIDS epidemic in New York also provoked new conversations about the meanings and limits of “family.” This section looks back to important legal cases around housing to understand the significance of HIV/AIDS for the emergence of domestic partnership and same-sex marriage. At the same time LGBT activists and artists pushed for an expanded vision of family and kinship that could include gay and lesbian couples and broader friendship and community networks. 

Coda: HIV/AIDS at Home Today

This final section considers the ongoing experiences of people living with HIV/AIDS around housing, home, family, and everyday life, news forms of activism, and continued memorialization of people lost to HIV/AIDS. This section will include a short documentary, created by curator Stephen Vider with filmmaker Nate Lavey, looking at three activists and artists working today—Ted Kerr, from the caretaking collective What Would an HIV Doula Do?; Wanda Hernandez-Parks, from the Brooklyn-based community group VOCAL-NY; and photographer Kia LaBejia.

AIDS at Home includes work by more than 20 artists—well-known, emerging, and newly discovered—including David Wojnarowicz, Nan Goldin, Kia LaBeija, Hunter Reynolds, Hugh Steers, Luna Luis Ortiz, Lori Grinker, Avram Finkelstein, Susan Kuklin, L.J. Roberts, and Chloe Dzubilo, as well as many activist and support organizations.

AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism is made possible by a major gift from the Calamus Foundation, New York; with additional support provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Todd DeGarmo, Louis Wiley, Jr., Devashish Jain and Marc-Antoine Denechand, Dr. Andrew Solomon and Mr. John Habich Solomon, Mike Syers, Sarah Belin-Zerbib, Ralph Furlo, Peter Lease, Steven Stack, Joel Dooling, Alexis Unger, Jonathan Chan, Sari David, and Rosa C. Bautista. The Museum gratefully acknowledges the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s support of exhibition curator Dr. Stephen Vider’s fellowship. AIDS at Home was his capstone project.

 About the Museum of the City of New York

Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. To connect with the Museum on social media, follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @MuseumofCityNY and visit our Facebook page at For more information please visit


“Inside Shadows: A Memoir” by Thomas Pfeifer— Thirty Years with HIV

Pfeifer, Thomas. “Inside Shadows: A Memoir”, Thomas Pfeifer, 2017.

Thirty Years with HIV

Amos Lassen

Thomas Pfeifer has been waging a nearly thirty-year war with HIV and this is memoir that chronicles that period. He provides a sense of hope for others in similar situation. The summer of 1985 was supposed to be the best time of his life. He had just come out and was accepting himself as a gay male and was having a great time. Then friends began to disappear and panic set in as rumors about a strange disease became public. The disease came to Minneapolis where Pfeifer lived and he soon discovered that he was HIV positive and everything he did was studied carefully. He knew he had changes to make if he was going to survive.

“Inside Shadows” looks at Pfeifer’s transformation as he moves from fear to acceptance. This was at a time when hype and hatred was dominant in the media. He quietly takes a stand by joining forces with other supportive community members. Over the years he has learned that by following his inner wisdom, and listening to the advice of other trusted individuals, he is able to deal with the deadly virus.

It was a time when hate and fear was everywhere but he knew he had decisions to make and he proved that adaptation is essential to survival even in the face of his HIV diagnosis. It was a time also when the verdict for HUV was death but he has beaten it by persistent searching for and adapting to new ways of thinking. He was willing to rebuild his life and find out how to live in a world that was in the process of changing. Now he wants to share with others what he has learned and he does so beautifully providing inspiration and hope to those who feel lost.

“House of Names” by Colm Toibin— Clytemnestra, A Retelling

Toibin, Colm. “House of Names: A Novel”, 2017.

Clytemnestra, A Retelling

Amos Lassen

Colm Tóibín retells the story of Clytemnestra and her children. Clytemnestra’s narrates the story of her own life in ancient Mycenae, the legendary Greek city from which her husband King Agamemnon left when he set sail with his army for Troy. She now rules Mycenae now, along with her new lover Aegisthus, and together they plot the bloody murder of Agamemnon on the day of his return after being away for nine years at war.

Clytemnestra has been judged, despised and cursed by the gods and she tells what led her to behave as she did. Her husband, Agamemnon deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles but then sacrificed her because he was told that this would make the winds blow in his favor and take him to Troy. Clytemnestra then seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus, who shared her bed and they waited until Agamemnon came back with a lover and she finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal because of his quest for victory that was greater than his love for his child.

Toibin takes the ancient legend and retells in with a modern sensibility and language giving it new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnestra’s thirst for revenge, but cheer it. He inhabits the mind of one of Greek myth’s most powerful villains and shows the love, lust, and pain she feels. The story is told in fours part and it is filled with drama leading up to her own murder by her son, Orestes. This is also Orestes’ story, too. We read of his capture by the forces of his mother’s lover Aegisthus and his escape and his exile. Her daughter Electra watches over her mother and Aegisthus with anger and slow calculation and with the return of her brother, she has the fates of both of them in her hands.

Clytemnsestra is a captivating and terrifying figure whose broken heart forces her into a ruthless lust for power. In reading about Clytemnestra, we see corruption causes resentment and how resentment breeds violence. A husband’s vanity and a wife’s rage, dissolves bonds and families. Here is a family that implodes while the gods leave it alone to deal with its problems. In his retelling, Tóibín presents the universal themes of failure, loss, loneliness, and repression. Even though the original is centuries old, the story is very contemporary. A powerful woman is caught between the demands of her ambition and the constraints on her gender, hatred and vengeance. Metaphorically, this is a story of family relationships, authority, trust, power and how women are blamed women when men are violent. Toibin’s prose is gorgeous and it makes no difference how we might feel about the original story, the author’s language takes embraces us.


“Are You Anybody?: A Memoir” by Jeffrey Tambor— A Star Dazzles

Tambor, Jeffrey. “Are You Anybody?: A Memoir”, Crown, 2017.

A Star Dazzles

Amos Lassen

Jeffrey Tambor is a man of many talents. He was Hank Kingsley on “The Larry Sanders Show”, he was outrageous as George and Oscar Bluth on “Arrested Development” and is presently an Emmy Award-winning actor for his performance as Maura Pfefferman on “Transparent”. He is a Broadway star, a television legend, an accomplished witty screen actor who has stolen our hearts for more than forty years. However, do we really know Jeffrey Tambor? We will in this wonderful memoir as Tambor

looks back at the key moments in his life that “taught him about creativity and play and pain and fear”. Tambor was born the son of “eccentric” Russian and Hungarian Jewish parents and grew up in San Francisco. He had a lisp and this caused him to suffer until he found his place in the theater. He shares that he learned from the best of his craft (Al Pacino, George C. Scott, Garry Shandling, Mitch Hurwitz, Jill Soloway) and from others he met along the way. From his first Broadway role through today, he is humbled by his work.

He takes us backstage to his life and he is very honest about his struggles with addiction, Scientology, and what it feels like to get fourth billing on the TV comedy, “The Love Boat”.

Answering the question, are you anybody?”, Tambor says “that a promise that success doesn’t mean perfection and failure most definitely is an option”. We meet the various characters that he has played and share his journeys on how he discovered how to portray them. Tambor has fought expectancy in life and in doing so, he is inspiring. In his honesty, we find rewards, chief of which is humanity. His friendships with others is what, he says, distinguishes him from others.

 Regarding Maura Pfefferman, he tells us he is amazed at the response of the transgender community and he is totally devoted to that community. He has used his platform to speak to about and to the movement’s shared goals, both on and off camera. The thing that has catalyzed the trans revolution is the arrival of powerful allies willing to hear their stories and fight alongside them for their rights. Tambor is not just anybody, he is somebody!!!


“ISMAEL’S GHOSTS”— A Story Within a Story

“Ismael’s Ghosts” (“Les fantômes d’Ismaël”)

A Story Within a Story

Amos Lassen

Arnaud Desplechin’s “Ismael’s Ghost” was the opening night film at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and is the story of Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), a widowed film director who is in the middle of making a film about an atypical diplomat. His wife and lover, Carlotta, died twenty ears earlier an her death still haunts him. He is involved in a love affair with Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and then Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) returns from the dead, causing Sylvia to run away.


Ishmael’s new film is based on the adventures of his diplomat/spy brother Ivan (Louis Garrel). Ishmael takes care of Carlotta’s father even though she has been declared dead after not having been seen for twenty years.

This is spy story-within-a-story that is only moderately interesting with a bit if humor but it is a film that is not sure what it supposed to be. Carlotta disappeared years before under mysterious circumstances and had been presumed dead. Ismael is so obsessed with Carlotta’s memory that he is depressed and drinking heavily drowning. The presence of Sylvia is a bit of stabilizing influence on him until Carlotta returns and everything changes. Ismael and Sylvie are both initially overcome by great shock following Carlotta’s reappearance and this heightens the traumatic sense of change and, perhaps, loss as seen through flashbacks of the beginning of the couple’s courtship. The film becomes melodramatic giving us a sense of emotional void. Basically, the film becomes a jumbled assortment of clashing storylines that forces it into becoming a parody of what its original intention was meant to be.

We think that “Ismael’s Ghosts will focus on a romantic ménage-a-trois filled with sex and jealousy but this loses force as the characters move on with their somewhat strange lives. There is just too much happening in the film. The cast and their performances, however, make the film engaging even though only Gainsbourg seems to really understand what the movie is about. Sylvie is presented as the sanest and levelheaded character of the three leads and she brings actual mystery and complexity to her role. The most disappointing performance comes from Cotillard who struggles to make her character threatening for Sylvie and tempting for Ismael. Ismael begins to lose sight of his directorial career because of the drama that has consumed his life and there seems to me, at least, that there is a great film here but it becomes lost in what we see.

“Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments” by Jenna Weissman Joselit— The Ten Commandments and America

Joselit, Jenna Weissman. “Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments”, Oxford University Press, 2017.

The Ten Commandments and America

Amos Lassen

In “Set in Stone”, Jenna Weissman Joselit looks at the Ten Commandments within the American history. She has researched many stories such as the 1860 story of a man who claimed to have discovered ancient holy stones inside a burial mound in Ohio to the San Francisco congregation of Sherith Israel, which commissioned a luminous piece of stained glass depicting Moses in Yosemite for its sanctuary; the Kansas politician Charles Walter, who in the late nineteenth century proposed codifying each commandment into state law and the radio commentator Laura Schlessinger, who popularized the Ten Commandments as a psychotherapeutic tool in the 1990s.

The Ten Commandments were not just a theological presence and imperative in the New World; they also provoked heated discussions around key issues such as national identity, inclusion, and pluralism. They offered common ground and held out the promise of order and stability and became an important aspect of American identity. While archaeologists, theologians, and devotees across the world still wonder what became of the tablets that Moses received on Mount Sinai, Weissman Joselit suggests that they came in the United States by being a part of the American religious imagination. Americans have had a long-running captivation with the ten in everything from archaeological relics to Hollywood spectacles to municipal monuments to self-help regimens to synagogue works of art.



“The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone” by Olivia Laing— Memoir, Biography and Cultural Criticism

Laing, Olivia. “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone”, Picador, 2016.

Memoir, Biography and Cultural Criticism

Amos Lassen

Olivia Laing looks at loneliness through the lives of six iconic artists and in doing so, she gives us a work that brings memoir, biography and cultural criticism together. We look at how we live and what being lonely means.

When writer Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she discovered loneliness on a daily basis and this fascinated her so she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. She was soon moving fluidly between works and lives and from Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” to Andy Warhol’s “Time Capsules”, from Henry Darger’s hoarding to David Wojnarowicz’s AIDS activism and as she shares that with us, she investigates what it means to be alone. This is a book about “the spaces between people and the things that draw them together, about sexuality, mortality and the magical possibilities of art. It’s a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive”.

It is not just of the author’s experience with loneliness, but of how loneliness can be generative (and destructive) in the lives of artists, and how art is a sort of relief and release from loneliness. It is both a painful and lyrical read and it really makes the reader both while reading it and after the covers are closed. Granted, we cannot all identify with the sordid and bizarre lives of some of the artists here but we can all identify with being lonely.

We read the author’s personal perspective on loneliness and also through her interpretation of the isolationism of the six artists. Laing begins her story after she and her boyfriend separated after she left England and moved to New York to be with him. We see how loneliness directly affected her and how it affected six artists. Through them she shows the biological and nurturing source of loneliness, and how these people expressed and coped with it. Fir example, Edward Hopper painted lonely pictures, Andy Warhol displaced “normal” conversation with TV and tape recorders, Henry Darger used repetitive and childish language to draw attention to child abuse, David Wojnarowicz used his notoriety to draw attention to the AIDS epidemic.

Laing writes of professionals who have conducted experiments dealing with the importance of nurturing, and how social connectedness impacts future behavior. We read of Harry Harlow’s controlled experiments with rhesus monkeys where they are caged with surrogate mother figures–

one made of just wire, the other with wire wrapped with a soft cloth and read of the monkey’s attachment to the soft “mother”. This led Laing to conclude “that a child’s need for attachment far outweighs its capacity for self-protection. From this she draws conclusions about how and why a person’s

childhood can later impact their social skills and she is at her best when she explains that people can deal with isolation through art even though there are many things that art can’t do (bringing the dead back to life, mending arguments between friends and so on).

“Integrating the US Military: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation since World War II” edited by Douglas W. Bristol, Jr.— Examining Controversies

Bristol, Jr., Douglas W. (editor). “Integrating the US Military: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation since World War II”, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017.

Examining Controversies

Amos Lassen

The American military is a conservative institution yetit has often been at the forefront of civil rights. In the 1940s, the 1970s, and the early 2000s, military integration and promotion policies were often more progressive than similar policies in the civilian world. Today, the military is one of the best ways for those who are in marginalized groups to succeed based solely on job performance.

“Integrating the US Military” looks at the experiences of African Americans, Japanese Americans, women, and gay men and lesbians in the armed forces since World War II. It examines controversies from racial integration to the taking down of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the recent repeal of the ban on women in combat and the essays collected here show that the military is an important institution in which social change is confirmed and even accelerated. What is remarkable is that those challenges launched against the racial, gender, and sexual status quo in the postwar years have also transformed ideas about power, citizenship, and America’s role in the world.

Looking within the armed services, we get a unique look at the history of military integration in theory and in practice. We see the complicated struggle that accompanied integration and learn much more about comparable issues that affect civilian society, (affirmative action, marriage laws, and sexual harassment).

“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart— A New Deluxe Hardcover Edition

Lockhart. E. “We Were Liars”,  (Deluxe Edition), Delacorte Press, 2017.

A New Hardcover Edition

Amos Lassen

Imagine if you will, one book a beautiful and distinguished family, a private island, a brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy, a group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive, a revolution, an accident, a secret, lies upon lies, true love, and the truth. This is what we have in “We Were Liars”, a modern, sophisticated suspense novel. We have read and reread this book and for many it has become part of their lives. Now we have the collector’s edition that includes never-before-shared letters from Gat to Cadence, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the author’s creative process, the author’s hand-drawn map of Beechwood Island and the Sinclair family tree, unique ideas for book discussions (Sinclair family–style), and an excerpt from E. Lockhart’s upcoming novel “Genuine Fraud”, a psychological thriller that will leave you breathless. If you do not know what I am talking about then here is your chance to get

The New York Times bestseller as a not-to-be-missed hardcover deluxe edition and to give you an idea as to how many have enjoyed this book, on the Amazon cite there are over 2000 reviews. Did I mention that the first printing is signed by the author!?).

“We Were Liars” follows young Cadence, who is part of a wealthy family known as the Sinclairs. Her story takes place shortly after a terrible where she suffered something that was so traumatic that she has no recollection of what happened. Now she wants to pick up the pieces and find out what happened that night and the doctors also feel she needs to come to the realization on her own.

The focus is on Cadence’s real health issues; migraines that are so bad that they leave her “nauseous and unable to move.” We are all aware of the pretentiousness of adolescence and we meet rich white teenagers who exude that pretentiousness by trying to be deep.

One of the aunts of the Sinclair family moved out of her house because she couldn’t bear to live it anymore. Now the next few sentences are written in the style of the book so be prepared for some strange sentences.

The main house

had been leveled

and rebuilt.

Cady’s mother tells her she is spending too much time alone.

The Littles are acting out.

The twins steal pills and read about paranormal stuff.

One little gets scared at night and thinks the house is haunted.

Merrin is sick and doesn’t get better.

The Liars magically appear when Cady wants them and never clean up after themselves.

Cady doesn’t remember what happened for a whole summer.

The aunts are pretty much drunk 24/7 and being nice to each other because they are all grieving.

The Liars ignore Cady when she doesn’t return.

Her aunt walks around the island crying into her son’s jacket and keeps asking Cady if she has seen him. His little brother has nightmares so fierce he wakes up at night screaming while his mother wanders around aimlessly. And so on and on but you get used it and begin to miss it when it is not there.

This is not a love story and even without the details we know what happened that summer 15. After all, the novel is something of a mind game that is fun to play.

The story is incredible and the writing style makes it a fun read. Here are the summers of a girl who harbors a dark secret, and it gives us a satisfying, yet shocking twist ending


“The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel” by Eleanor Henderson— “An Audacious American Epic”

Henderson, Eleanor. “The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel”, Ecco, 2017.

“An Audacious American Epic”

Amos Lassen

In 1930, in Cotton County, Georgia, 1930, there is a house full of secrets. There two babies, one light-skinned, the other dark, are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Field hand Genus Jackson has been accused of raping Elma and is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably torn apart.

Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under her father, Juke’s roof and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. She does so despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople. It does not take long before we realize that the ties that bind all of them together are much more intricate begin to come forth, the lies that have surrounded the family begin to be exposed and the world becomes shakier as the family is forced to deal with the painful and shocking truth.

Themes of racial violence, social division, and financial crisis propel the story. Eleanor Henderson’s writing style pulls us into the story and I actually felt that the characters were standing around me as I read. Poverty, hate and prejudice as well as just plain evil surround Elma and her family and it is all very real. Having been raised in the South, I was aware that such things happened but I really never had to face them head on. Rape, lynchings, cowardice and violence make this a very intense read and while there are those who do the right thing, there are also many who do not. This is certainly no “Gone With the Wind” where love seems to hover above the plot. The book will be published in September