I Wanna Be Well
August 30–October 21, 2018
The Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, is proud to present I Wanna Be Well—the first retrospective of the work of renowned American artist, activist, writer, and educator Gregg Bordowitz.
is curated by Stephanie Snyder, Reed College, and is part of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s 2018 Time-Based Art Festival.
I Wanna Be Well features Bordowitz’ seminal films and activist materials; rarely-seen sculptures and drawings; books, essays, and poetry; personal ephemera; and recent performance films. The title of the exhibition pays homage to the infamous punk band the Ramones, and to their 1977 album Rocket To Russia which renewed vitality to rebellion against apathy at the close of the 1970s. The Ramones’ aesthetics of humor, speed, and formal simplicity were early inspirations for Bordowitz. It was also in 1977, before the AIDS epidemic, when conservative entertainer Anita Bryant wielded her celebrity to promote anti-gay propaganda, resulting in public outrage.
Born in Brooklyn in 1964 and raised in Long Island, Queens, Bordowitz moved to Manhattan’s East Village when he was eighteen and came of age during America’s last great analog era, when independent book and record shops dotted the streets, and graffiti-covered pay phones hugged the hallways of discos and dive bars. New York City was Bohemian, electric: high fashion, glam, the nightclub scene, and punk surged through the city’s veins, fueled by a speedball of deregulation and indulgence—in everything.
But as postmodernism, feminism, and multiculturalism assayed the canon, AIDS began claiming lives and the legislative disciplining of the “infected” body became part of an extant conservative agenda to oppress labor, social equity, and freedom of expression. In New York in the ’80s, the choice was clear: act up or die. Diagnosed with HIV before the availability of antiretroviral drugs, Bordowitz devoted himself to activism, artistic expression, and health education.
Over the last thirty years, Bordowitz has marshaled his prodigious intellect and artistic vision to analyze and confront oppression, shame, prejudice, and death—working across interrelated forms including film, essays, poetry, lectures, plays, and live performance. These investigations have allowed Bordowitz to assume different subject positions while addressing illness, existence, and love with profound intimacy and introspection. Bordowitz continually turns diverse theories and cultural phenomena (psychoanalysis, medicine, Judaism, TV, music, to name a few) onto the body, and, by extension, the unconscious and the spiritual. Over the years as Bordowitz has turned his poetics and camera lens inward, he has examined rituals of living with HIV, often in relation to popular images of disaster and cultural spectacle: crashes and pratfalls, in particular.
Seeking to reach the largest possible audiences, Bordowitz has deployed the language of television to create internationally celebrated films about the culture and politics of the AIDS epidemic, intended, in Bordowitz’s words, “... to facilitate moves toward the treatment and cure of AIDS, the distribution of HIV-prevention education, and the protection of civil rights.” Bordowitz’ films, writings, and performances share a concern with pedagogies of healing and learning, while embracing doubt and vulnerability.
Gregg Bordowitz: Some Styles of Masculinity
September 7: Rock Star, 6:30 pm
September 8: Rabbi, 4:30 pm
September 9: Comedian, 4:30 pm
Reed College chapel, Eliot hall
Performances are free but require reservations through pica.org (or the Cooley for Reed classes). The work is produced at Reed in collaboration with the Reed College Theatre Department. Some Styles of Masculinity was originally commissioned for “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon,” at the New Museum, New York. (September 27, 2017—January 21, 2018). Curated by Johanna Burton with Sara O’Keeffe and Natalie Bell.
Poetry reading by Gregg Bordowitz
Thursday September 13, 6:30 pm
Reed College chapel, Eliot hall, followed by a reception at the Cooley
Free and open to the public
Gregg Bordowitz is an award-winning artist, writer, and activist. His films—including Fast Trip, Long Drop (1993); A Cloud in Trousers (1995); The Suicide (1996); and Habit (2001)—have shown internationally in screenings and exhibitions at museums including: The New Museum, NY; Artist Space, NY; TATE Modern, UK; MoMA, NY; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Bordowitz is the author of many books, including: The AIDS Crisis Is Ridiculous and Other Writings, 1986–2003, (2006); Glenn Ligon: Untitled (I Am a Man) (2018); General Idea Imagevirus (2010); Volition (2013); and Tenement (2016). In addition, Bordowitz has written numerous catalog and journal essays on art, literature, AIDS, and their intersections. Bordowitz was a member of the groundbreaking AIDS activist group ACT UP, and a founding member of the 1980’s film collective Testing the Limits. In 2006, Bordowitz received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art journalism from the College Art Association, and is also the recipient of a Rockefeller Intercultural Arts Fellowship, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. A long-time faculty member of the Independent Study Program (ISP) at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Bordowitz is the Director of the Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Stephen E. Ostrow Distinguished Visitors in the Arts Program was established by a generous 1988 gift from Edward and Sue Cooley and John and Betty Gray in support of art history and its place in the humanities. The program enables Reed College’s art department to bring distinguished individuals in the arts to the college for extended periods. These visitors give public lectures and conduct seminars with students. The intent of the program is to bring to campus creative people who are distinguished in connection with the visual arts and who will provide "a forum for conceptual exploration, challenge, and discovery." The program is named in honor of art historian Dr. Stephen E. Ostrow, as a tribute to his career and out of respect for his advisory role in the formulation of the Cooley-Gray gift and the design of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery. Ostrow is the Emeritus Chief of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
IMAGE: Gregg Bordowitz, Fast Trip, Long Drop (still), 1993. Producer, director, writer. 56 minutes, 16mm, Beta-SP. Image copyright of the artist, courtesy of Video Data Bank, www.vdb.org, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.