Stealing the show: Implicated and Immune: historical revisionism

‘Art here was a critical school devoted to extolling the handful of artists with the largest market share and ignoring the rest.’ 

Culture Crash; The Killings of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg, Yale University Press, 2015, p.207.

Implicated and Immune -28th January to 28th February
Michael Lett Gallery, Auckland

Now that queer is cool and identity politics a fashion statement Michael Lett has appropriated the title and concept of the original exhibition Implicated and Immune, 1992, ditched most of the original cast of artists and hitched his event to the 2015 Pride Festival. His show has featured in Art forum’s Critic’s Picks, had a full page article in the Sunday Star Times, and has a half page article in the Rainbow Tick, the Pride festival guide. In light of the way that this show inadvertently makes the question of gay and lesbian visibility a central question, it is a shame most of the queers have been replaced by heterosexuals such as Michael Parekowhai with his piss take bog queen image of his 1994 urinal work fittingly entitled Mimi.

The original Implicated and Immune exhibition, curated by Louis Johnstone (now Louis Le Valliant) and shown at the Fisher Gallery Pakuranga,(now te tuhi) was a public institutional statement of creative solidarity with community, groups and individuals who were struggling to come to terms with AIDS. Lett has used the original artworks, by the original cast of straight artists from the 1992 exhibition along with the original promotional material for the show and the surrounding public information posters.

The work is presented as if it were an authentic recreation of the 1992 Implicated and Immune exhibition. Philip Kelly, Fiona Paddington, Richard Wearn, John Reynolds and Richard Killeen were in the original exhibition. Queer artists Fiona Clark, Trevor Fry, Grant Lingard, Imogen Taylor, Peter Wells, Stuart Main and Douglas Wright have joined them but the exhibition also includes Billy Apple, Simon Denny, Russ Flatt, Ava Seymour, Christine Webster, Jacqueline Fraser, Giovanni Intra, and Julia Morrison.

Among those eliminated from Michael Lett’s representation of the 1992 exhibition are, Jane Zusters, Lili Lai’ita , Paul Rayner, Fear Brampton, Jack Body, the late Malcolm Harrison, Richard McWhannell and Steve Lovett.


Artist Stephen Lovett says: “We were directly involved in or unavoidably caught up in the unfolding nightmare that was HIVAIDS at that time. We had to be involved in community action, the care of friends affected by the virus because this was our life, our world. These were the people that we loved and cared for. At the book fair in Lett’s gallery in December, Lett nervously spoke to me to see if I knew about his upcoming restaging and I believe, to check I would not make a scene about it. In the opening conversation the first thing Lett said to me was that that the elimination of some of the original artists was not a snub. 

But if this historical revision is not a snub, then what was it? And if the original concept of the show was being ‘reworked’ why adhere to the original template, including the title of Implicated and Immune? And why is the work of Richard Wearn included in the show. Wearnn a straight man duplicates in his work (without attribution) to the work of a Felix Gonzalez-Torrez, a gay artist who was claimed by the virus. Wearn’s work was questionable in 1992 at the time of the original Implicated and Immune Show. It remains no less problematic now.

Artists like Zusters, Lai’ita, Rayner and Brampton were significant in the art world and participated in the show in the knowledge that such a public statement of identification could carry with the potential for a degree of career backlash. The review of the show in Art New Zealand by the late Giovanni Intra noted the force of the work that came from community engagement, saying that this was ‘something rarely seen in the art world.’

fear brampton


The 1992 exhibition can also be viewed as part of the trajectory of social and legal changes that dramatically reshaped the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual (LGTBI) communities. Law Reform in 1986, then the Human Rights legislation in 1990 and the Hero Festival launched in 1990 by Rex Halliday transformed what it meant to be LGTBI. It is important to remember that these changes were undertaken to make it possible for the men and women affected by the virus to feel able to come forward without fear or stigma attached to any viral status disclosure. Before 1997, when protease inhibitor drugs first appeared, to receive a positive HIV diagnosis was to receive a death sentence. For some this sentence was measured in a matter of months. For a few the death sentence would be measured in years.
malcom harrison

Lett’s new version of Implicated and Immune does not explain why the original core of gay and lesbian artists are omitted? If Lett were restaging a significant show of say Maori art, to exclude a core group of original artists, and replace them with largely Pakeha ones would seem inappropriate and even inflammatory to say the least. Why, and under what circumstances is it remotely acceptable in this instance to exclude this group of artists when restaging this show?

And indeed, it’s actually quite difficult to see what relevance the younger artists shoehorned into this incarnation of Implicated and Immune have to the context of the show, except to move stock and promote Lett’s stable of artists. The only real connection some of the younger artists have is that they were born at the height of the epidemic, and queer or not, by the time they were of age to be aware of it, HIV had become more or less a manageable condition robbed of much of its sting. What has Imogen Taylor’s zombie formalism or Alex Vivian’s pseudo-Judy Darragh Calvin Klein poster covered in fake cum got to do with anything? The latter is typical of the trite regurgitation of old tropes and once transgressive stereotypes well past their use-by date. Stylised pseudo-shock: a video of an erect cock by Campbell Patterson, Russ Flatt’s homage to cottaging, and an old 2004 Richard Orjis video of a youth lying on straw and bukkaked with yet more ersatz cum. It’s as if the diversity of LGBTI experience and the overarching fear and uncertainty of the time has been reduced to a pitiful handful of porno clichés that are so safe you could go see it with your mother. Mainstream New Zealand can pop along, reassure itself of how liberal and hip it is and then get on with its existence without once having to seriously think about what the AIDS era was actually like for a marginalised, excluded, persecuted queer community.


Given all of the above, the irony is that this show ran in conjunction with the Pride festival. Shame!



lesley and john

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Robert Peters #

    I am a heterosexual male with an extremely sympathetic connection with homosexuality, as I have close friends who are gay, and some who are afflicted with the AIDS virus. I do not judge them as I understand who they are and how they feel. I also know they do not want to be pilloried in the public press, and I am not sure this so called exhibition is in the interest of the gay community when it is more or less only in the interest of the bank account of the person wanting to make money from this exhibition. Fair comment or what????

  2. Michael Stevens #

    In the interests of accuracy, while the Rainbow Tick has placed an advertisement in the Pride Festival programme, the programme is not called “The Rainbow Tick” nor does it have anything to do with us. We would appreciate it if you corrected this error.

  3. admin #

    We have amended the post in the light of your comments thanks Michael.