Organized by New York artist collective Group Material, Democracy is a four-part exhibition and public forum responding to the “state of crisis” of democracy in the United States at the tail end of the Reagan era. The collective, comprised of Doug Ashford, Julie Ault, and Félix González-Torres, identified four significant arenas of this crisis: education, electoral politics, cultural participation, and the AIDS crisis. Around each of the four issues, they organized a roundtable discussion with guest speakers from interest groups, an exhibition at 77 Wooster Street, and a town meeting at 155 Mercer Street. With its emphasis on collaborative production and public participation, the project takes democracy not only as its subject, but also as a working process and exhibition model.
Democracy is the first half of a yearlong Town Meeting project sponsored by Dia Art Foundation. The second half of the project, If You Lived Here. . ., is organized by Martha Rosler for spring 1989. The Town Meeting project is supported in part with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, Washington, DC, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
77 Wooster Street, New York, New York
Education and Democracy, September 14–October 8, 1988
Politics and Election, October 15–November 12, 1988
Cultural Participation, November 19–December 10, 1988
AIDS and Democracy: A Case Study, December 17, 1988–January 14, 1989
The first installation, Education and Democracy, presents works related to education by artists including Joseph Beuys, Jenny Holzer, Adrian Piper, and Öyvind Fahlström alongside collaborative contributions by teacher and student groups. Politics and Election features a television tuned to major network coverage of the ongoing presidential race between Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush amidst objects and artworks by Luis Camnitzer, Leon Golub, Hans Haacke, and Christian Marclay, which deals with the nature of contemporary political power. Juxtaposing works by Carmen Herrera, Mike Kelley, Barbara Kruger, and Ken Lum with snack food packages alluding to commodified versions of multiculturalism, Cultural Participation also involves the raffle of a La-Z-Boy recliner, a self-basting turkey, and a color TV to visitors who are sold tickets by Dia guards. Conceived as a space for mourning as well as collective action, the installation AIDS and Democracy: A Case Study features two large tables from which stacks of flyers from activist and community organizations are distributed. Videos addressing the AIDS crisis plays on monitors at each end of the tables, surrounded by works by Dorothea Lange, Louise Lawler, Andres Serrano, Nancy Spero, Jannis Kounellis, and others.
155 Mercer Street, New York, New York
“Democracy and Education,” chaired by Tim Rollins, September 27, 1988
“Politics and Election,” October 18, 1988
“Cultural Participation,” chaired by David Avalos of Centro de la Raza, November 22, 1988
“Aids and Democracy,” chaired by Maria Maggenti of ACT UP, January 10, 1989
Doug Ashford was born in 1958 in Rabat, Morocco. He lives and works in New York, New York.
Julie Ault was born 1957 in Boston, Massachusetts. She lives and works in Joshua Tree, California and New York, New York.
Félix González-Torres was born in 1957 in Guáimaro, Cuba. He died in Miami in 1996.
Group Material was founded in 1979. Democracy was conceived by three members–Doug Ashford, Julie Ault, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.