About the Exhibition
This site-specific billboard by Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996, b. Guáimaro, Cuba) was created to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, which occurred at the Stonewall Inn bar directly across the street from the billboard site. This manifestation of the work measured 18’ x 40’ and was sited above the Village Cigar Store. Two lines of white type, running across the bottom of a black rectangle, read: “People With Aids Coalition 1985 Police Harassment 1969 Oscar Wilde 1895 Supreme Court 1986 Harvey Milk 1977 March on Washington 1987 Stonewall Rebellion 1969.”
The Stonewall Rebellion took place in June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street. This event was the first civil uprising in response to police harassment and raids on gay bars, and triggered further activism and the modern gay liberation movement. Other references in the work mark both tragic and empowering events that are significant in gay history. For instance, Gonzalez-Torres referred to Oscar Wilde’s courageous decision in 1895 to stay in England and face trial on charges of sodomy, as well as to the formation of the People With AIDS (PWA) Coalition in 1985, which the artist suggested had substantially strengthened the gay movement in that era.
Gonzalez-Torres called his billboard “a visual reference, an architectural sign of being, a monument for a community that has been ‘historically invisible.’” The work operates on an abstract level, yet the dates are keys to a complex content. The white date lines activate the viewer’s historical knowledge and may stimulate various responses, which the observer “projects” onto the empty black space.