Gregg Bordowitz

I Wanna Be Well

MoMA PS1
22-25 Jackson Avenue
Queens
Long Island City
May 13th — Oct 12th

Find out more | Reserved timed tickets

The pandemic is still beginning. As the U.S. reopens with full force, many other countries are suffering through their deadliest months of the COVID-19 crisis. “I Wanna Be Well,” a mantra which still stings in a city recently devastated by illness, doubles as the title of Gregg Bordowitz’s mid-career survey at MoMA PS1. The artist, writer, and performer memorializes, mourns, and agitates for a different pandemic: “THE AIDS CRISIS,” Bordowitz writes in a loud red-on-yellow banner, “IS STILL BEGINNING.”

A proliferative artist, Bordowitz—who contracted HIV at the age of 23 in the late 1980s—demonstrates just how insidious the disease could be in his varied work. Vinyl poems, twenty-four in all, which make up Debris Fields (2014), are dispersed around the exhibition. Replete with nouns doubling as verbs which suggest clauses but never fully culminate in them, they read like a scrambled mind’s attempt to form coherent thoughts, laced with the language of both art and disease: “… DEAD DEATH DIE/ DICE CUT SCULPTURE ASSEMBLAGE MONUMENT…. SHIN BRUISE HEADACHE BACKACHE INFECTION SORE.”

Bordowitz was as much activist as artist, and indeed, often blends the two in his work. “To whom it hasn’t concerned for eight years,” he begins a fiery letter regarding his arrest for interrupting traffic in protest of government inaction on the AIDS crisis. “If they don’t do anything now,” he demands, damningly, “when will they?” Vitrines of ephemera from ACT UP, the AIDS advocacy organization which Bordowitz was involved in, underscores just how intersectional concerns over the disease are. “Ignoring color ignores the facts of AIDS,” one of the pamphlets reads. “STOP RACISM. FIGHT AIDS.”

In 1988, Bordowitz published “Picture a Coalition,” a forceful proclamation on the role of video in activism. “As a twenty-three year old faggot,” it begins, “I get no affirmation from my culture. I see issues that affect my life—the issues raised by AIDS—being considered in ways that would probably end my life.” This exhibition showcases a number of video works, including his very first, some aspect of a shared lifestyle (1986), which splices together recorded narrative with clips collected from news and other media, to later conceptual pieces, such as A Cloud in Trousers (1995). Still others distill a form of wish-fulfillment, such as Fast Trip, Long Drop (1993), the pseudo-documentary for which Bordowitz is perhaps best known, which is part biography of a disease, part biography of a movement. “Panic,” a fictional newscaster commands the viewer, at a time when newscasters were mum on AIDS. “That’s right—panic!” —Lisa Yin Zhang

Gregg Bordowitz, still from Fast Trip Long Drop (1993). Video (color, sound). Courtesy the artist and Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago