Exhibition Press Release


30 Artists and 8 Poets on Marriage Equality

Exhibition dates: November 05, 2011 - February 20, 2012

Release date: July 15, 2011


Martha Colburn, Untitled, 2011; water-based oils and collage on board; 10 5/8 x 7 3/4 in. (27 x 19.7 cm); courtesy the artist; © Martha Colburn; photo: Don Ross

From November 5, 2011, through February 20, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present The Air We Breathe, a thematic exhibition that brings together commissioned work by 30 contemporary visual artists and eight poets who, for this project, will explore issues surrounding the cause to legalize same-sex marriage from various perspectives.

The Air We Breathe—its title drawn from a Langston Hughes poem—is organized by SFMOMA Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Apsara DiQunizio, and the exhibition will be accompanied by a large-format illustrated book project featuring a commissioned essay by Eileen Myles that responds directly to the artist contributions. Additional texts by Martha Nussbaum, Frank Rich, and DiQuinzio provide context and background on the topic.

The exhibition will be presented salon style on SFMOMA's second-floor landing, with works on paper by Laylah Ali, D-L Alvarez, Simon Fujiwara, Robert Gober, Raymond Pettibon, Amy Sillman, Allison Smith, and 23 other artists interspersed with new poetry by John Ashbery, Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian, Ariana Reines, and Anne Waldman, among others.    

"Equality is in the air we breathe," wrote Langston Hughes in Let America Be America Again, a poem from 1938 that still resonates today. Over the last decade, equality for same-sex couples has proven one of the country's most pressing civil rights issues. Under current law same-sex couples are denied certain protections granted to male and female couples, including, in most states, the right to marry and to marriage's attendant protections.

DiQuinzio says, "Art has the ability to rupture entrenched ways of thinking, to shift paradigms, and to open up dialogue in situations that seem resolutely fixed. It's my hope that the book and related exhibition will spur dialogue and create interest not only among followers of contemporary art and members of the LGBT community, but for the broadest public possible."

Since 2004, when former Mayor Gavin Newsom first issued a directive to allow same-sex weddings to take place in City Hall, San Francisco has been a focal point for this issue. California was initially among the now six states to have legalized same-sex marriage; however, with the passing of Proposition 8 in 2008, that ruling continues to be contested. As a leading cultural institution in the region, SFMOMA has organized a creative approach to the issue: a publication intended as a catalyst for dialogue and an exhibition that will provide a dynamic space for the reexamination of a subject in desperate need of creative attention.

Visual artists in the exhibition include Laylah Ali, D-L Alvarez, Doug Ashford, Nayland Blake, Jennifer Bornstein, Andrea Bowers, Robert Buck, Johanna Calle, Martha Colburn, Sam Durant, Shannon Ebner, Nicole Eisenman, Simon Fujiwara, Liam Gillick, Robert Gober, Ann Hamilton, Sharon Hayes, Christian Holstad, Elliott Hundley, Colter Jacobsen, Matt Keegan, Carlos Motta, Catherine Opie, Nicolás Paris, Dan Perjovschi, Raymond Pettibon, Amy Sillman, Allison Smith, Lily van der Stokker, and Erika Vogt.

Poets include George Albon, Will Alexander, John Ashbery, Dodie Bellamy, kari edwards (poem selected by Frances Blau and Rob Halpern), Kevin Killian, Ariana Reines, and Anne Waldman.

Published by SFMOMA in association with D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers and edited by DiQunizio, The Air We Breathe: Artists and Poets Reflect on Marriage Equality (hardcover, $19.95) accompanies the exhibition and features color reproductions, poems, and essays, as well as biographies of each artist and poet.

On November 17, in conjunction with the exhibition and book launch, artist Simon Fujiwara will present a multipart theatrical performance titled Simon Fujiwara: The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Weaving together new performance work with excerpts from a number of his previous acclaimed autobiographical performances and installations, Fujiwara offers a single narrative in three acts. From the search for a 136-year-old Amazonian explorer, to the secret sexual powers of Abstract Expressionist painting, Fujiwara's absurd and labyrinthine stories will be brought to the stage with the aid of actors, musicians, and a mobile set.

A Performa Commission with HAU and SFMOMA, the performance continues SFMOMA's Now Playing live art series, which has transformed the nature of the museum's public programming by embracing the event-driven, performance-based aspect of much contemporary art. Earlier that same evening, many of the poets included in the project will also read their work.

The Air We Breathe project continues on Friday, November 18, with a special symposium—part of SFMOMA's Phyllis Wattis Distinguished Lecture series—devoted to exploring the topic of marriage equality. Participants representing a wide range of perspectives will address the fields of law, electoral politics, and media. 

Major support is provided by the Teiger Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Annalee Newman Fund of The New York Community Trust, at the suggestion of John Silberman.

Funding for the book The Air We Breathe: Artists and Poets Reflect on Marriage Equality has been generously provided by the David Teiger Foundation and the New York Community Trust.

Media Contacts

  • Jill Lynch, 415.357.4172,
  • Emma LeHocky, 415.357.4170,


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Founded in 1935 as the first West Coast museum devoted to modern and contemporary art, SFMOMA is currently undergoing a major expansion project that will significantly enhance gallery, education, and public spaces, enabling the museum to better showcase more of its expanded permanent collection. While the museum is temporarily closed for construction,  through 2016, SFMOMA is “on the go” with an extensive array of off-site programming across the Bay Area, including collaborative and traveling museum exhibitions, major outdoor projects and commissioned installations, and new education initiatives.

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