New York AIDS Memorial Features Poetry-Based Work by Jenny Holzer

Artist Jenny Holzer has created a touching poetry–based work as part of the new New York City AIDS Memorial in the West Village, which is dedicated to the over 100,000 New Yorkers who have died since the epidemic began 35 years ago.

The memorial, located across the street from the former St. Vincent’s Hospital, the country’s first medical facility to open a ward for AIDS patients, was officially unveiled on December 1, in honor of World AIDS Day.

Holzer’s contribution to the memorial is, as you might expect, a text piece. She has engraved the granite paving stones at the foot of the memorial with excerpts from Walt Whitman’s 1855 poem “Songs of Myself.” The poet, who is thought to have been gay, is a fitting choice for the memorial given the severity of the AIDS epidemic in New York’s LGBT community.

Jenny Holzer's contribution to the New York City AIDS Memorial features the text of a Walt Whitman poem. Courtesy of Lars Niki/Getty Images for Housing Works.

Jenny Holzer’s contribution to the New York City AIDS Memorial features the text of a Walt Whitman poem. Courtesy of Lars Niki/Getty Images for Housing Works.

“The Whitman poem is a beauty from a man in full and glad possession of his body,” the artist told the Art Newspaper. She is also working with Google to develop an app that will augment the piece, which is her first permanent installation in New York City.

Towering above Holzer’s work, the 18-foot tall memorial was designed by the Brooklyn–based architecture firm Studio a+i. “There are no definite dates or victims,” said the firm of the canopy-like installation in a statement. “In our design process, we emphasize the changing and varied ways through which AIDS affects us personally and as a society.”

The New York City AIDS Memorial was unveiled World AIDS Day 2016 on December 1, 2016. Courtesy of Lars Niki/Getty Images for Housing Works.

The New York City AIDS Memorial was unveiled World AIDS Day 2016 on December 1, 2016. Courtesy of Lars Niki/Getty Images for Housing Works.

The project, the brainchild of New York urban planners Christopher Tepper and Paul Kelterborn, has been in the works since 2011. Both state and city governments footed $4 million of the more than $6 million bill, including a maintenance endowment, with the rest of the funding coming from private donors.

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