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Entries in Marlene McCarty (5)


I May Not Go Down In History But I May Go Down On Your Little Sister

Marlene McCarty's work is beautiful and troubling. It has a can't-help-but-stare intensity. It deals equally in desire and anger, beauty and the family and how society inscribes rules. She was a member of Gran Fury and on my panel on AIDS and art and queer activism at Frieze. I also wrote about her for the November issue of the magazine, where I used Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex and Angela Carter's The Sadeian Woman to talk about McCarty's mural-sized drawings and all their disturbing power.

And, the title above is not the title of the piece. I wanted it to be, only it was too long to fit in the magazine's grid. You can read a pdf of the essay here


Sexuality, Politics and Protest – Panel at frieze London

In London this October? I have the pleasure of chairing a talk at the Frieze London Art Fair with Neil Bartlett, Marlene McCarty and Zanele Muholi on art, activism, politics and sexuality – From ACT UP to S. Africa today... Neil is an amazing novelist and playwright who both takes on history and restores it to the present from his first book, Who Was That Man: A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde ,a hybrid crossing over from novel to non-fiction, memoir and history to his work in the theater. He also impressively just donated his archive to the British Library (see the talk about it here).

Marlene was part of with Gran Fury (creating the visuals and graphic/advertising arm of ACT UP NY). Her own work since has pushed the language and codes of society from the way we address and sexualize women to how society encodes morals and values and the knots those can tie us up in from girls and their families to our take on ourselves and great apes.

Zanele just won the Freedom of Expression award from Index on Censorship and her work, portraits of black lesbians in S. Africa are bold, striking and in a country that asks for invisibility – declarative.They've been shown recently at Documenta last year and in Venice this year.

It has been 20 years since ACT UP, Gran Fury and queer activism reshaped the power of contemporary art and protest. What is the legacy of and possibility for art and protest now?



“ART IS NOT enough” was one of the phrases coined for AIDS where so many responses to the disease were art. The phrase meant art was too pretty even when it was about ugly things. It didn’t stop the virus or arrest it or even cut the price of AZT. Art might have raised awareness but awareness was not enough. I’ve been thinking much about this because Marlene McCarty – one of the artists who came up with the phrase who was a member of the collective Gran Fury, ACT UP’s advertising and propaganda wing – lost two-thirds of her work in Hurricane Sandy this week. She’s hardly the only artist who has, and I can barely imagine the pain, only I can because I’ve seen the pictures and know her work and the photos she emailed of shuffling through a flooded basement clutching soggy tubes containing her mural sized drawings are nearly too much to bear.

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Die Laughing: AIDS 30 Years On

1) THIS YEAR ACT UP is 25 years old, AIDS just over 30, and an excellent documentary How To Survive A Plague about the former (and, of course, the latter) was released a couple weeks ago. “Most inspiring film this year” has been said about it frequently. It’s true. Also true is what it shows that people can do if your heart is set to it. Or, if you face a death sentence. And, you are middle class and male and white and have (because of those three things) been brought up to believe you can change the world. There is a certain entitlement to those three things, but that isn’t to say that ACT UP continued to be defined by them. In fact, part of what the group did was invite in many voices to speak and fight: women, Hispanics, blacks. 2) The movie’s release is the occasion for this piece, but it is not the piece, though parts of it (pieces of the piece, if you will) will address the movie. For reviews there is Andrew O’Hehir’s excellent piece in Salon and this one in the SF Chronicle. There are countless others too. The movie I will say again is inspiring. See it.

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Marlene McCarty – What Lies Between the Lines

PUSSY – BEAVER – CUNT. This was the first I remember of Marlene McCarty’s art– words, shocking ones at that, the sort of language hurled at women on the street, the words used to take power and show who has it. They were on canvas “painted,” so to speak, though they’d actually been ironed on with heat-transfer letters just like you’d wear on a t-shirt. These weren’t Marlene’s first words I’d seen though. Those were “Kissing Doesn’t Kill,” and I had no idea she’d had anything to do with them. They were produced by Gran Fury, ACT UP’s innovative, anonymous and in-your-face advertising and propaganda arm. No, “Pussy – Beaver – Cunt” was bracing, shocking – and on the bright white walls of an art gallery in Soho in 1990. They now reside in the Brooklyn Museum.

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