Because the truth is, when I was doing that poster—I think we talked about this—I went to several media people in New York, none of whom thought it made any sense at all. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And we were going to have that be the topic of the poster, and be the image, and then so we started talking about it and Chris said, "well, what color is this tattooed person, and what gender is this tattooed person?" CYNTHIA CARR: Or talk about it, you know. Thousands of works of art, artifacts and archival materials are available for the study of portraiture. And they allowed us to put it in. So I tend to be very doctrinaire about it. CYNTHIA CARR: Because this started before you even got there or as you arrived or—, AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Well, it was held in customs—. [Affirmative.] And there was one other that I don't recall. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: So, I'm sort of gingerly, like listening, and riveted by the story. Really. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: So, it became my entire world. And then you had a media savvy group of people who were intent on using every resource we had. It was, you know, we were faced all over the world, even within our own bubbles of the queer community in New York, or the Democratic circles in New York, or the art world, which are theoretically preaching to the converted—there was a tremendous amount—there was a tremendously broad set of responses in those early moments of ACT UP, to what should be done about it. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, that's the one we were talking about. They basically just said, you know, "watch him," and they, you know, the orderly took us to the curb, you know, with him in a wheelchair and we got on the elevator and someone else tried to get on, and he just went like this. None of this, like, one at a time. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: It was a bus shelters in— It was bus shelters, you know, those duratrans. Someone called him at home. CYNTHIA CARR: That exhibit, Why We Fight, was it about activism in general, or was it specifically about AIDS activism? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And I sent him a letter, because Mike Salinas had done this interview, and I said, "Could you give me Larry's address?" So people from Kazakhstan would go to Russia for one meeting and people from Russia would go to Canada for one meeting so that there's this cross-pollination of collectives to set up sort of an international network of people working on projects in the public spaces about HIV/AIDS and sharing what their experiences are. But it's the—it was the name of the type of car that off-duty police officers in New York used. Yeah, it's an outrage that's beyond the purview of our interview in a way, in a way, but only in a way. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: During that first month, I think I told you, the Silence = Death collective disbanded, and my boyfriend at the time committed suicide. People's fears, anxieties, prejudices, anger about what it means to protect oneself, or what it means to be living with HIV, or what it means to be a sexual gay men, you know—how to have sex in this world. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And, at that point in America—and I think Gregg Bordowitz has talked about this to—numerous times. She was on the committee. CYNTHIA CARR: That's good. And these stores were so proliferate, they were like Starbucks are now. I can't read it because it's so small. But—, AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Your reporting, I mean, I followed your reporting—, AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: —it was one of the reasons I was so excited when they paired us because I—. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And then we did—we were—we were still meeting. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And then the magistrates came and said that there's nothing blasphemous about it. CYNTHIA CARR: Oh. The fact that he didn't have one thing that he did his whole life the way my mother did. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: We did that with Mark Simpson and Don Moffett. To come out as HIV, you're risking arrest. And we said, "Sure." It was an NYU class. So I'm trying to shoehorn this very particular outsider's perspective into just about everything that I do. We were trying to do so many things at once so we kept sort of vacillating, well this is going to kick the legs out from under that objective, and we kept weaving through these ideas, and then we thought the rainbow flag, but we all hated the way it looked, and it had kind of hippie baggage. And the group was sort of winnowing down to a core group. Did you know he was the one that organized that, Jim Fouratt? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Well I think there were probably about seven to eight people from PONY. CYNTHIA CARR: Oh, uh-huh. And then we had to talk about what it meant in terms of access, you know, that you could be on medication and still not achieve undetectability. CYNTHIA CARR: Right. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, we don't have the date on it. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: But, also, the period of transition between—I think by then we were sort of—we did have formal announcements of committees and we had mimeographed, Xeroxed lists of all of the contact people and all of the committees. And then when you went there you intended to start as a film major when you went there? Like, how would—in what kind of a hothouse environment could I create collectivity? I interviewed—Vincent Gallo had his first film, so I did a couple of—I did an interview with him for a Spanish magazine, and then he requested me to art direct a story for Dazed and Confused, a cover with him and Christina Ricci that was shot by Jack Pierson. It was this egalitarian petting zoo where it was meant to replicate the way social spaces function, but that isn't the way social spaces function. I did, you know, a certain amount of research, of course, when I wrote my book on David, and I recall that Stephen Joseph at some point said that, "There is no crisis. And it was literally a couple of hundred bucks. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Because I had no interest in a museum project. We're not talking about the wilds of New York. CYNTHIA CARR: Okay. Well, I was going to talk about Kissing Doesn't Kill. that once it was—by the time it had become translated to inside the beltway on the national stage and AIDS research institutions, the FDA and the AIDS research at NIAID, it had—you already see this transition of, not necessarily between resistance and participation, but you definitely see the system sort of neutralizing dissent by inviting us in. But no one from your collective worked on it? Avram is Art director and hairstylist at Vidal Sassoon. One was a lenticular print, which is a—it's like a three-dimensional image, if you aren't familiar with that technical word where, literally, if you move the postcard in your hand, or you walk by the poster, it changes from one image to the other. CYNTHIA CARR: Maybe while you were working on Read My Lips. CYNTHIA CARR: Oh, she was in your affinity group, okay. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: It was bad. And Mary Berry was on the commission. So I think that they're—you know, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the ways in which we construct the dominant narrative of HIV/AIDS, and we deploy these symbols that sort of spell out or symbolize or represent what this entire moment meant, and there's the Silence = Death poster, but you were born 20 years after that poster was in the streets of New York; you would have no way of knowing that the deregulations of Reagan's administration created tax abatements for building in New York City and there was a building boom, and there would not have been construction sites to put posters on, if it hadn't been for deregulation that was going on, and that's the piece of the story that you will never see when you see that poster on a museum wall. And then it's half-hour, 45-minute brainstorming sessions mixed with recaps and straw polls, and it's—you know, I'm walking a group of strangers through this process of winnowing down a complicated message into language that anyone can understand to be put in a public space. I can imagine. Here's the cease and desist.". And he said, "Yes." The fact is there's a huge power in communal responses, but there's also power in the individual voice. You're just looking at a poster and it's stripped of all of its agency, and I think that's where political graphics are very different from video, in that video carries context with it. And most people felt as though it wasn't necessary. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: I don't—I don't know the answer to that. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: You know, he came to meetings and we talked about it and we said we were unhappy about this and he said, "You don't have to censor it. But I was surprised to see that the Nuremberg Trials were the—a very large photograph of the Nuremberg Trials was the background of the installation. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: I mean there was a tremendous amount of activism within ACT UP surrounding condom use in New York. You would put a quarter into—and you would take out a paper and close the door. And it was structured in the same way everything in ACT UP was. So he had a very expansive vision of the show and he asked me if I would do some blogging which was actually the genesis of—some of the chapters of the book are based on these blog posts in which I take this body of work that I had a hand in and talk about the issues that those posters were about and analyze them from a sociopolitical point of view, and also try to contemporize their meaning. But because of your work, I think, and others, but—. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And Mark came in with this image from a 1950s softcore porn magazine of two sailors kissing. And PONY, the Prostitutes of New York, was another. They're still gone? Was it a big group or—. A later project with the Helix Queer Performance Network (discussed below) was a sticker to hand out at the Gay Pride parade, a sticker that re-imagined the rainbow flag, adding content and context to that familiar image.—CC]. So I feel like the mess-making is very much a part of a way in which we used to think about social spaces as artists that people are no longer able to do, and that's one of the reasons I include mess-making as a prerequisite. About how it would be structured, how it could be organized, how it would be funded, what its purview might be. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: So, I knew that it was going to be a significant moment because it was ACT UP's first action in DC. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And Tom Kalin, who was in the—in Gran Fury, and was in the Whitney Program at the time, had been doing a lot of videos around same-sex kisses, and was very interested in it as an image. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Super-important. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: I had dinner with two friends of mine—actually one friend. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: I think the only—the other projects being Kissing Doesn't Kill I did not want to do. CYNTHIA CARR: Right. And the first line is the setup for it. Yes, I agree. And then it was in New York, and Creative Time got involved there with—that was with funding it? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: I do, but it's very funny about that, Cynthia. The six that were on the website all deal with AIDS. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And pretty much anyone could come, and the meetings were sprawling and kind of messy, and there were sometimes as many as 20 people in them. So we didn't formally dissolve at that point, but half of the collective just stopped coming. CYNTHIA CARR: Right, so that's, let's see you—. 1933/1984/2020, installation view, 2020. He was also a musician, Jorge Socarras, and I knew him before. So this poster was just meant to be a general one about sexism. CYNTHIA CARR: The one called Worker's Apartment? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And Stravinsky was a huge—I was a real big fan of atonal music. So in the first two cities, it went out without this rejoinder. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: So the trajectory is very clear, and I think looking back at it for people who only knew me through my political work within AIDS activism who don't know any of those other things, that there's this whole missing piece of the story that led up to it, which was a life of institutional critique, politically and from a creative perspective. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And that was late '87. This is the second in a four-part oral history of fashion's response to the AIDS Crisis. You know, so this was—I was fairly doctrinaire about what—how—the kinds of art world conversations I would want to be involved in. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Those were all portraits of my family. CYNTHIA CARR: Oh I see. The project—the sites of the project, the public project, were going to be individual branches in four locations throughout the outer boroughs and one in Manhattan; two in the Bronx, one in Staten Island, and one in Manhattan. And he said, "Well, I'm one of the two men in that image.". Interview location: Sound Beach, NY. Miss You," was the name of it. The first two women's images were only for the street announcement of this demonstration. It looks more like a, you know, with temporary walls. The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with Avram Finkelstein on April 25-May 23, 2016. He is a founding member of the Silence=Death collective and the art collective Gran Fury, with which he collaborated on public art projects for The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Venice Biennale, ArtForum, MOCA LA, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, Creative Time, and The Public Art Fund. So she got us a copy. I actually was friends with Nan Golden and David Armstrong. We had been offered to do the restaged Let the Record Show in Berlin— which happened in December of that year. CYNTHIA CARR: I mean, you didn't—you and your collective didn't remove it? And we all agreed that there were many things that The New York Times was not reporting. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And it also wouldn't have the word AIDS on it. CYNTHIA CARR: There is a way, though, in which, like, the thing in the Bessie program. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And I realized then that the ways in which we're told to think about art are very different from our actual experiences of them. Every single idea that ACT UP went on to do, every issue came from the floor. This is Reagan's America.". Now that didn't start—. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Because it was effete, and fairy-ish, and self-deprecating, and funny. And the first two questions are so provocative, "Do you resent people with AIDS?" There are activists in Canada or—we did—criminalization was the topic of the first Flash Collective and it's very—it's gotten very extreme in Canada, and there are apps now where you could literally—you can get someone to sign that you have disclosed to prove it to them. And that is a part of the story, but that's not all there was to the story. I was on a panel with Robert Vazquez-Pacheco from Gran Fury, and … And then very large, the thing you would see from across the street, "Take collective direct action to end the AIDS crisis." And we staged it as a fake sex store. I forget what they call that section. And we had a tremendous resistance from the archdiocese. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And so after my father died, I started thinking about that, and I realized that my lifeline, as it happens, is incredibly long. Everyone was interested in it. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: It was about reading—and the Nuremberg Trial was in tone that we were reading it into the historical record. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: That's correct. Avram Finkelstein is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: I don't, because as a hired hand, I frequently zone in and zone out, and I don't know exactly what the spin-off of this particular project was. Yeah. CYNTHIA CARR: Oh, some were German. CYNTHIA CARR: Right. CYNTHIA CARR: For sure. COVER STORY A and U Magazine. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Theoretically. Was that Gran Fury? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: That's just the way it was. This was the first time this had ever happened and it was at the exact same moment that people thought you could get AIDS from a mosquito bite or a toilet seat. It takes them a while to warm up to the idea of mark-making in a communal setting quickly, without thinking about it, without being considered, because frequently artists have solitary practices. Richard Elovich got into all the—he was doing needle exchange. It was organized through a series of national organizations. It had a masthead of The Daily Worker and it had motifs of—. It was—I think it was really the height of the culture war. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: But it wasn't until AIDS that my politics really became my own. And its scenes—it's all sort of done as sort of a late-30's social-realist style—. Do you have any way of knowing how many people went to that Tumblr page? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And whether that was always the intention. Because it could've come and gone on the night and you never would've seen it, right? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. And I feel like it's a super-powerful way to sort of get people to think about this thing, this invisible sub-epidemic. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: So we chose an image of a palm tree, this idyllic image of a palm tree and superimposed text, which was impossible to come up with a font and a color that could be read against this very complicated image of a palm tree and a bright blue sky. CYNTHIA CARR: The one—the ones that stayed together, at least. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Well they did and they told us. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Well we hadn't decided there was going to be a black poster. I—you know; I think that some people refer to the dissolution of the AIDS activist moment as coming out, as surrounding the questions of gender. So there was a broad spectrum of how we would approach this question of institutional critique, and I was on the radical left of that set of conversations. I didn't want any involvement whatsoever. And I happen to love this piece. That was a debate that went on for weeks too, because Oliver loved color, and in fact when Oliver died we did a sticker of the Silence = Death poster, as Oliver wanted it to be, which was a bright yellow background with green text—. The original stats in the billboard were "42,000 dead," which was amended in this second printing. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Visual AIDS was involved in that, yeah. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And I was so—you know how you bring a kid and you think, "Oh, they won't understand it." By small I should say it's like, probably 25 point font, but it's not as big as the rest of the poster. I think that was—that began in late 1987. So, I feel like I would've had another life had it not been for the AIDS crisis, but Don was a musician, and he started showing signs of immunosuppression very early on, before AIDS even had a name. And it's very odd to say this, it sounds a little douche-y or like I'm making it up, but my work was all about gender, but we're talking about 1971. We—the header for the Tumblr page was a close-up from the movie Gone Girl of the woman on the pillow, the female protagonist, a close-up of the pillow, and it was right at the moment the movie was released, so it sort of opened up all these questions about what gender meant in a complex way, and then it had some very wonky stuff about access and an explanation of the feminist movement and how reproductive justice—people who think about this sort of the thing came to the idea of reproductive justice. What I didn't know was—I did kind of know that he had a collaborator, Patrick Cowley, who was Sylvester's producer, had actually died before Don, but he was very—Jorge was very hush-hush about it. She got a copy to Bill Bahlman from the Lavender Hill Mob, who then gave it to me. I feel like there's this very weird.- we have a very skewed idea of the historiography of HIV/AIDS. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: We spent time at an artist colony. And I was talking to my mom about it, and she said—I said, "He has these fevers, they come and go; he has sinusitis, no one can tell what it's from, they treat him, it comes back," and she said, "There's something wrong with his immune system.''. CYNTHIA CARR: But it had been removed before you started this? So they were, all of those design decisions were a part of this sort of sleight of hand of who produced it, what it's for, and what its saying. It's a very political message in so much plain language. When were you given a name? Right, which—what was distributed at Shea Stadium? If they partnered—. It wraps all the way around the base of my thumb, but it's—on both hands, it splits in exactly the same place. The—didn't TAG become—sort of separate itself? View Avram Finkelstein’s profile on LinkedIn, the world's largest professional community. It was a consciousness-raising group. And I was minoring in printmaking so I shifted to print making. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Because there were men and women on either side within ACT UP. It doesn't talk about—it completely throws a cloak of invisibility over HIV criminalization cases where there were people in America in jail for 20 years because they've been accused by someone of knowingly exposing them to HIV, even if they haven't been—haven't contracted the virus. So Mark Simpson and I sort of loved the Jack Smith kind of fairy-ness aspect of it. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Oh, yeah. The first text is redrawn from a journal he kept after his boyfriend died of AIDS in 1984. [Affirmative.] AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And they probably still are. And underneath the spinning wheel, that window was entirely covered in pink florescent feathers. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And, again, the compacted history is that Gran Fury designed Silence = Death. There was a core, but it was an open committee in ACT UP. CYNTHIA CARR: Right. You're right. Last time when we stopped, we had gotten to The Four Questions. And we coupled it with an image of police in riot gear running towards you, a black and white photograph, and it says, "I have HIV, call the cops" in very large letters, and then it has an expository text. And it says, "54 percent of people with AIDS in New York City are Black or Hispanic…AIDS is the number one killer of women between the ages of 24 and 29 in New York City…By 1991, more people will have died of AIDS than in the entire Vietnam War. And I was on the waitlist; there was 90 slots and I was number 60, and I might've gotten in, but—, AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: 60 slots and I was 90, correct. David said, "I think I'm going to apply for the Museum School," and I made sure I was there. So it's easy in hindsight to look back at this work as the shining example of what the art—what art can do for the rest of society. Finkelstein has been interviewed about art, activism and communication in the public sphere by publications including The New York Times, ArtForum, Bomb and Interview But—. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: But then to also be angry about it, was a bridge too far for a lot of people, and once I realized that I said, "Why don't we form a group?" A video has social context in it. And that was the last poster that we did. And we thought, well, the AIDS crisis is telling us something else. And we would be discussing a project, and then come to a certain sense of resolution amongst the people attending that meeting. I worked with Tom Kalin and Mark Harrington—and Don Moffett I think was in and out of that on the Read My Lips poster. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Well, I—about a year later, after we had done the T-shirt versions and the—so, the fundraising committee of ACT UP asked if they could make T-shirts out of these two images. And you didn't just wrap around yours you took off their front page. And in that set of conversations we said is there a chance for a public project. He was rumored to have escaped Austria with the help of Albert Einstein. Okay. It does seem a bit like preaching to the converted, you know. Yeah. Red was originally meant to represent life, so we took that as a way to make a fantasia on this question. But I was nervous. . Right. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And Lola Flash, the photographer. And we wheatpasted there with ladders, all of Gran Fury and I think Maria Maggenti came and helped us as well and maybe someone else from my affinity group. So, it would have been true then. Avram Finkelstein : biography – Avram Finkelstein is an artist, writer, gay rights activist, and member of the AIDS art collective Gran Fury. But, in fact, in the collective we thought it was kind of kitschy and we didn't understand why they wanted to do it. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, we were—Ingrid Sischy was the editor-in-chief at the time. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And it actually was a project I brought to the collective. Maxine Wolfe takes delight in recounting when this action was proposed on the floor, how horrified a lot of gay men who didn't feel, wouldn't feel safe in that environment, were at the idea. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: We basically—when he came to us and we negotiated separately with Cee. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, I mean, Boston was a very political place to be and a very great place to be at that moment. Remember? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Perhaps. And Mark was getting sicker. CYNTHIA CARR: Okay, let's get started here. CYNTHIA CARR: You already the two women from ACT UP. It's a project in flux. CYNTHIA CARR: Right. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. And the effect that it was having on the AIDS crisis and the—we were pointing a finger saying they were responsible for an increased death toll as a result of that. One of the many pieces of the ACT UP story that doesn't get repeated is that ACT UP was involved in clinic defense. And the name was already chosen, and the first poster had already been done. CYNTHIA CARR: Oh, okay. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: But we were trying to push everyone to up their game. And then the names of your parents, and if you could spell those. Richard Deagle. And he asked us if we would—Maria was in my affinity group. Yeah it's sort of funny because the really weird thing is that there were a lot of the friends of—the closest friends of my parents, and our family friends, had relatives who were gay. The same American institutions that failed during the HIV-AIDS crisis are failing to effectively deal with the pandemic. Mm-hmm. How do you as a person living with HIV who sero-converted when you were 18 and you're 20 now, live in a world where you're not supposed to sero-convert. So you were still meeting with the collective? In every story, who's missing? And went straight to the Kitchen. My practice re-imagines information technologies as an ecosystem of narratives bridging egalitarian fantasias about social spaces at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, exploring tensions between identity and colonization, access and limitation, agency and refusal. I was surprised to find my hand no longer “belongs” to me, and dictates its own vernacular. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: That was the AIDS crisis, and it's a—there's a fork. I think it's really important to understand that there was no universality of the agreement about what should be done and how it should be done. And I might've gotten in, but I applied to the Philadelphia School of Art because they had a good film program and at the time I was making films, in high school. And there was a Prison Issue Day —that Gran Fury made posters for those five. "—with a stranger? AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: And it's—but in a way, it's—you know, here again, as a Jew, the question of witnessing is so integral to my Jewish identity and my political identity—and now my identity as an artist having lived through this moment and done work around it. I would never wear it. [Affirmative.] CYNTHIA CARR: Right. And she did—. And the—everyone but the non-lesbian couples had been painted out with white spray paint. digital, wav Transcript: 148 pages An interview with Avram Finkelstein conducted 2016 April 25-May 23, by Cynthia Carr, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Finkelstein's home and studio in Brooklyn, New York. Oh, for the Whitney show, there was the—, CYNTHIA CARR: Oh, okay. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: He quit right then and there. AVRAM FINKELSTEIN: It was not—we didn't need the New York Times to anoint the AIDS crisis. [Affirmative] What year was that? 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