Democracy. Four installations, informed by four roundtable discussions, synchronous with four town meetings, book. Dia Art Foundation, New York. 15 September, 1988 – 14 January, 1989.

Exhibition installations: Democracy: Education. 15 September – 8 October, 1988. Democracy: Politics and Election. 15 October – 12 November, 1988. Democracy: Cultural Participation.19 November – 10 December, 1988. Democracy: AIDS and Democracy, a Case Study. 19 December,  1988 – 10 January, 198


On Democracy. (by Group Material)

“Participating in the system doesn’t mean that we must identify with it, stop criticizing it, or stop improving the little piece of turf on which we operate.”

Judge Bruce Wright, Justice, New York State Supreme Court

Ideally, democracy is a system in which political power rests with the people: All citizens actively participate in the process of self-representation and self-governing, an ongoing discussion in which a multitude of diverse voices converge. But in 1987, after almost two terms of the Reagan presidency and with another election year at hand, it was clear that the state of American democracy was in no way ideal. Access to political power was obstructed in complex ways; participating in politics had degenerated into passive and symbolic involvement; and the current of “official” politics precluded a diversity of viewpoints. When the Dia Art Foundation approached us with the idea of doing a project, it was immediately apparent to us that democracy should serve as the theme.

The subject of democracy not only became our content, but it influenced our method of working. This theme promoted a greater awareness of our own process. One of the first questions we asked was: “Why are they asking us?” To us, the Dia Art Foundation signified “exclusive,” “white,” “esoteric,”  and “male,” whereas we had always attempted to redefine culture around an opposing set of terms: “inclusive,” “multicultural,” “nonsexist,” and “socially relevant. In general, we see ourselves as the outspoken distant relative at the annual reunion, who can be counted on to bring up the subject no one wants to talk about.

The subject no one in the art world wants to talk about is usually politics. Yet, because every social or cultural relationship is a political one, we regard an understanding of the link between politics and culture as essential. “Politics” cannot be restricted to those arenas stipulated as such by professional politicians. Indeed, it is fundamental to our methodology to question every aspect of our cultural situation from a political point of view””to ask, “What politics inform accepted understandings of art and culture? Whose interests are served by such cultural conventions? How is culture made, and for whom is it made?”

In conceptualizing this project, therefore, we proposed a structure that differed from the conventional art exhibitions, lectures, and panels Dia had previously sponsored. We identified four significant areas of the crisis in democracy: education, electoral politics, cultural participation, and AIDS. For each topic, we collaboratively organized a roundtable discussion, an exhibition, and a town meeting. For each roundtable, we invited speakers from diverse professions and perspectives to participate in an informal conversation. These discussions helped us to prepare the installations and provided important information for planning the agendas for the town meetings.

From: Wallis, Brian, ed. Democracy | A Project by Group Material, Bay Press, Seattle. 1990

Deitcher, David, “Social Aesthetics”_(link)


A Chronicle of Interventions, 2 May, 2014 – 13 July, 2014. Organized by Inti Guerrero and Shoair Mavlian for the Tate Gallery, London and TEOR/éTica, San Jose, CR.  Thanks to Paula Piedra, administrator of TEOR/éTica, San Jose for making the TEOR/éTica iteration possible.


Itinerary pdf of Loan to Tate Gallery_(link)


A Chronicle of Interventions

LUCHAR! An Exhibition for the People of Central America. Taller Latinoamericano, New York. 19 June – 9 July 1982.

This show would have been impossible without the intense engagement of Central American artists in exile in NY, particularly the El Salvadorian poet and filmmaker Daniel Ascencio Flores, who met Ashford earlier that year. The exhibition acted as a socially interactive space in which 27 artists from both north and south America contributed work to be exhibited in one contiguous space. Seeing a painting by Nancy Spero next to an image by the Cuban design collective OSPAAL or drawings by Nicaraguan children next to a John Ahearn, created a sense of shared destiny essential to aesthetic experience and political emancipation. At the opening, representatives from the FDR (Revolutionary Democratic Front)/FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation front), organizers of solidarity organizations in the US, and New York journalists spoke between performances and partying.  Today it may seem unusual to see a room full of simultaneous artistic and political activity – in which each critique and celebrates the function of the other. Indeed, it is crucial to point out in these days of occasional mindless nostalgia that such a multi-form event was rare in 1982 as well. At that time, the critical function of art was overcome by the neo-expressionist musings of yet another set of white male “visionaries.” A revived gallery system was set to receive them, flush with the new money of a youthful set of junk-bond dealers and international money marketers. The uniqueness of LUCHAR! and the events surrounding it was not lost on the participants. Work began immediately to plan larger events around the founding of a new organization: INALSE, the Institute of Arts and Letters of El Salvador in Exile. That effort eventually led to the founding and execution of Artists’ Call Against US Intervention in Central America, a set of organizing bodies that focused on a series of museum and gallery exhibitions, poetry readings, musical performances, magazine articles. public demonstrations, art events. and educational. lectures. The primary purpose of the effort was to physically demonstrate sup­ port for the popular movements of the region and to resist the interventionist policies of the US government. What set the Artists’ Call phenomenon as dis­ tinct from others was its physical scale and social breadth. The scale can be described by the lists themselves – the number of artists exhibiting works, the number of poetry readings and concerts, the thousands of dollars raised and sent to the region. Most importantly, the making public of common artistic aspirations joined a growing public consciousness against the US government’s wars in the region.

Interview with Ascensio from Bomb magazine _(link)

Review in Village Voice, Lucy Lippard _(link)

Luchar! For the People of Central America, Taller Latinoamericano, NY. June 19 – July 9. 1982

Primer (for Raymond Williams) Artists Space, NY.  21 May 1982 – 17 July 1982.

In 1982 Group Material was invited by Artists Space to make a work for one of the smaller rooms of its original space on Hudson St in lower Manhattan. Using Raymond Williams’ book Keywords, (1976), the group produced an exhibition that presented his insistence on the historical formation of language as a way to demonstrate similar conditions for the revaluing of visual culture. The result was a room with red walls presenting a drawing by Margret Harrison next to James Brown album covers next to a Jean-Luc Goddard film still next to Chaka Kahn’s interview in Interview Magazine and so on.  As one of the first designed installations produced since leaving its original space on 13th Street, this project set the form for the group’s later investment in exhibiting accepted art objects juxtaposed with with store-bought commodities, cultural artifacts and ephemera as an act meant o question who gets to make culture and who its circulation and display is allowed to represent.

Artists Space archive page _(link)










Primer: For Raymond Williams. Artists Space, NY. May 1- July 17, 1982

The People’s Choice (Arroz con Mango), Group Material, NY, 10 January – 1 February, 1981.

Still a student at The Cooper Union, Ashford was part of the audience for this exhibition, the fourth since the group opened its space on 13th street in the Lower East Side. It was built by members with neighborhood children going door to door and asking residents to loan things they valued from their homes to be exhibited in the space. Artists and friends also brought works and together a portrait of the community, the time and and the place was assembled. Some years later, at a conference organized by Artists Space, Bobby G (aka Robert Goldman) remarked: “this was the most important show of the 1980’s even if you never saw it.”


Letter distributed to residents of 13th St _(link)


The People’s Choice (Arroz con Mango), NY, Jan. 10 – Feb 1, 1981

Timeline: The Chronicle of US Intervention in Central and Latin America. 22 January – 18 March, 1984. Produced by Group Material as their contribution to Artists’ Call Against US Intervention in Central America, a nation-wide mobilization of artists, writers, critics and art spaces in response to US military policy in the region. Artists’ Call also has a presence on this website, here _(link)

Page produced for “MOMA Through Time” website _ (link)

Article in The New York Times, Feb. 3, 1984 _ (link)

Review by Thomas Lawson, Artforum, May 1984 _(link)

“Dream of Solentiname” exhibition at 80 WSE, New York University, Dec. 2017 – Feb. 2018_(link)

Grace, Claire; Counter-Time: Group Material’s Chronicle of US Intervention in Central and South America. Afterall Journal 26_(link)

Duganne, Erina; The Presentness of Central America Photography and Memory in Group Material’s 1984 Timeline._(link).  Lecture images:_ (link)

Duganne, Erina; Group Material, Photography. and the Cold War._ (link) Lecture Images:_ (link)



Timeline: A Chronicle of U.S. Intervention in Central and Latin America, P.S.1, NY. Jan. 22 – Mar. 18, 1984

Americana, Whitney Museum, NY, Mar. 21 – Jun. 9, 1985

Resistance (Anti-Baudrillard), White Columns, NY, Feb. 6-28, 1987

RS - kruger Anti B19 copy




Resistance (Anti-Baudrillard), White Columns, NY, Feb. 6-28, 1987

The Castle, documenta 8, Kassel, Jun – Sept 1987

AIDS Timeline was produced originally in 1989 for the Berkeley Art Museum Matrix Gallery, and produced in new iterated versions for the Wadsworth Athenaeum in 1990 and The Whitney Museum in 1991 for that year’s biennial.

From a text submitted for dOCUMENTA 13, 100 Notes / 100 Thoughts. No. 032.  Written by Julie Ault.

“Virtually all the major social inequities that compromise democracy in the United States were reflected in that decade-long history of AIDS. The group’s arrangement of information posited a history of the political and social conditions in which AIDS was not only allowed but encouraged to become a national crisis, and broadcast some evidential responses made in the arms of the crisis. The timeline related the widespread stigmatization of people with AIDS, demonstrating the links between representation and judgment and between representation and allocation of resources. Furthermore, it documented the impact that homophobia, racism, heterosexism, and sexism had on the formation of public policy.

Aesthetic practice and social practice merged in AIDS Timeline. The project involved layers of collaboration in and beyond the group with both individuals and community advocacy organizations. AIDS Timeline proposed models of history writing, curatorial method, artistic practice, and social process, as well as a compound of temporal contexts joined together that reflected the climate of circumstance and perception, the complexity of the period. The exhibition sought at once to contextualize the AIDS crisis and to create a context itself didactic exhibit environment that examined recent events to account for present conditions, with the hope of influencing what was to come.

Agency was our horizon, and history not only that of the 1980s, but history as a continuum extending from earlier than 1979 and going on indefinitely. Chronology as guiding device set a linear horizon and performed an anchoring purpose, acting as a focal point from which viewers’ perspectives could venture. Within such a setup, the horizon is endowed with the double function of systematizing and releasing information. The horizon opened views to what was above and below the timeline. It opened views to the larger set of conditions articulated by the arrangement of information brought into narrative armature, to reveal the far-reaching associations between political and cultural events that render the historical period legible.”

Grace, Claire. Group Material, AIDS Timeline.  from The Artist as Curator #4, Mousse Magazine. 1989 _(link)

Other references and exhibitions drawn from Group Material’s AIDS Timeline:

100 Notes / 100 Thoughts. No. 032. (entire wall text of AIDS Timeline 1989, Berkeley) submitted for dOCUMENTA 13 _(link)

Vital Archive, CCS Bard 8 March – 5 April, 2009. An exhibition curated by Sabrina Locks from the NYU archive and other sources _(link)




AIDS Timeline (New York, 1991), Whitney Museum, Apr. 16 – Jun. 23, 1991

Market. Kunstverein Munchen, 4 May – 19 June, 1995. The first exhibition built without any works produced intentionally as “artworks, Market was also the last exhibition that Group material produced. Accompanying the show the group designed merchandise that re-presented the image of the “Freedom Wallet” – a product found by Julie Ault ten years before. Economies of consumption replacing identification with social reality was the overriding concern the design.\

Exhibition catalogue pdf _(link)



Market, Kunstverein Munchen, May – June 1995