Gregg Bordowitz: I Wanna Be Well is a personal and singular record of an artist who has been living with HIV for more than half of his adult life. Born in Brooklyn in 1964 and raised mostly in Queens, Bordowitz transformed his art practice in the mid-1980s in response to the AIDS public health crisis. Working with New York’s ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and several video collectives that he co-founded, he organized and documented a number of protests against government inaction, and advocated for health education and harm reduction. He also created remarkable video portraits of himself and others living with the disease, often using his “personal history as a way to tell a story shared by many.” The first comprehensive overview of Bordowitz’s prodigious and influential career, I Wanna Be Well surveys 30 years of his practice alongside the coalitions of activists, artists, writers, thinkers, and friends who have shaped his life—and among whom he continues to find sustenance.
Named after a 1977 Ramones song, I Wanna Be Well traces connections between Bordowitz’s intimate depictions of living with AIDS and the continuing global AIDS crisis. The relationship between art and activism is critical to Bordowitz’s sustained investigations of identity, illness, and desire. While developing a visual language capable of communicating harm-reduction models to a broad public, he made videos and television broadcasts that juxtaposed performance documentation, archival footage, role play, and recordings of protest demonstrations, drawing influence from feminist conceptual art. More recently, Bordowitz has engaged in live and recorded performances that explore the nexus of religious, sexual, political, and cultural identities with which he affiliates. The exhibition features these performances alongside his foundational videos and films, as well as drawings, poems, sculptures, ephemera, and works by artist friends.
Bordowitz’s career began in a time of desperation and great loss. While he has survived one harrowing period in American history, he reminds us that “the AIDS crisis is still beginning” and continues to exact an enormous toll on people in the US and abroad without access to life-saving medicines. Initially organized before the coronavirus pandemic and delayed because of it, I Wanna Be Well raises broad questions about how we define health, community, and care. Presented in a moment marked by suffering but also hope, the exhibition offers instruction from another precarious time of affliction. Sustaining his work over more than three decades under evolving specters of death, Bordowitz has used his art to testify, memorialize, and remind us of what we owe to each other.
A number of writings, events, and resources accompany this exhibition:
Signed copies of Pandemic Haiku, a collection of poems written by Bordowitz over the past year are available for visitors to take away in the Artbook @ MoMA PS1 bookstore, or download online.
Educational materials developed by Visual AIDS and the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective—including a zine resource guide encouraging harm reduction practices—are available onsite in PS1’s Homeroom space and for download online.
Gregg Bordowitz: I Wanna Be Well was organized by the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College. The exhibition is curated by Stephanie Snyder and organized at MoMA PS1 by Peter Eleey, former Chief Curator, with Josephine Graf, Assistant Curator. The exhibition was previously presented at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it was organized by Robyn Farrell and Solveig Nelson.