Gran Fury Collection

Collection History

Gays and lesbians in the United States began to mobilize politically in the 1950s with the founding of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis in California. This activist impulse spread nationwide, but did not reach critical mass until the late 1960s due to the influence of the African American civil rights, feminist, and anti-war student movements. In the wake of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was formed in New York City by an alliance of both veteran and youth activists. GAA, along with the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and Lesbian Feminist activists, made major transformations in the politics of sexuality and gender in the United States.

Among the many activist groups that worked to archive this history was the International Gay Information Center (IGIC), which grew out of the History Committee of GAA. The IGIC archives operated as a community-based repository until 1988, when the organization's directors gave the collection to The New York Public Library. The IGIC archives, along with other archives and collections subsequently donated to the Library, such as the Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs, comprehensively document the gay and lesbian civil rights struggles in New York since the 1950s and have made NYPL one of the most important archives of LGBT history in the United States.

During the 1980s-90s, activists in New York City drew upon the tactics of these earlier LGBT organizations to face the challenge of the AIDS crisis. They renewed these strategies in order to fight social stigma, demand treatment and support for people with HIV/AIDS, and create positive strategies to prevent the spread of the disease. Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP were among the most pivotal of these pioneering organizations. Building upon these growing strengths in LGBT history, the Library expanded its focus to document the history of HIV/AIDS activism in New York City, collecting the archives of major organizations, activists, and artists connected with this social movement.

Related Resources

1969: The Year of Gay Liberation <>

Carter, David. Stonewall: the Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Clendinen, Dudley. Out for Good: the Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Crimp, Douglas. AIDS Demo Graphics. Seattle: Bay Press, 1990.

Duberman, Martin B. Stonewall. New York: Dutton, 1993.

Eisenbach, David. Gay Power: An American Revolution. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006.

Gould, Deborah. Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight against AIDS. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2009.

Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS epidemic. New York: St Martin's Griffin, 2007.

Collection Data

The Gran Fury Collection contains examples of Gran Fury's artwork in the form of posters, stickers, fliers, printed ads, billboards and bus signs, as well as photograph and slide reproductions. Included also are a small amount of correspondence, textual accompaniments for artwork, copies of publications in which Gran Fury's work appeared, a sound recording of a Gran Fury press conference, and a videotaped interview with three group members. The collection dates from 1987 through 1995. This collection documents the activities of an artists' collective significant to the history of AIDS activism, primarily focusing on the artwork produced rather than on the running of the organization. A good sense of the political and social atmosphere of the time is captured in both the artwork and the printed material Gran Fury collected in response to its work.
Gran Fury (Artists' collective) (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1987 - 1995 (Approximate)
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 3648
AIDS (Disease)
AIDS activists
Artists -- Political activity
New York (N.Y.)
AIDS (Disease) and the arts
Biographical/historical: Gran Fury was an artists' collective devoted to AIDS activism through agitprop art. Named after the Plymouth automobile favored by the New York City police department, Gran Fury drew its membership from the ranks of ACT UP/NY (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York). The artists' collective arose out of ACT UP/NY's involvement with the art installation "Let the Record Show . . ." at The New Museum of Contemporary Art in December 1987. Bill Olander, curator for The New Museum, offered the Broadway window of the museum to ACT UP, where a group of members "let the record show" that some artists and their art chose not to be silent regarding AIDS. "Let the Record Show . . ." featured images of six individuals accompanied by concrete plaques carved with their quotes regarding AIDS. Silhouetted against a backdrop of the Nuremberg trails were Sen. Jesse Helms, Presidential AIDS Commission member Cory SerVaas, an anonymous surgeon, televangelist Jerry Falwell, columnist William F. Buckley Jr., and President Ronald Reagan. As an example, Jerry Falwell's quote read: "AIDS is God's judgment of a society that does not live by his rules." A neon "Silence = Death" sign hung overhead while a LED sign continuously ran facts about the AIDS crisis. After producing this installation, some members of ACT UP wanted to continue voicing their opinion and formed Gran Fury in January 1988. Gran Fury purposefully intervened into public and advertising spaces to disrupt the flow of normal thoughts with their own agenda. Notably, most of their work was directly exhibited to the public outside of traditional art spaces through fliers, posters, and billboards. They often recycled their own images and texts to circulate their message beyond its initial viewers. The collective produced some controversial pieces, most notably the Kissing Doesn't Kill bus poster, for which they received the Municipal Art Society of New York's Brendan Gill Prize in 1990, as well as The Pope Piece and Sexism Rears Its Unprotected Head, which were seized by Italian customs but eventually exhibited at the 44th Venice Biennale. With controversy, the artwork took on another life through the media, thus circulating a message far beyond its initial space. Gran Fury also received the International Center of Photography Design Award for their work at the Seventh Annual Infinity Awards in 1991. By the mid-1990s the atmosphere surrounding the AIDS epidemic had changed and according to Gran Fury's final piece, Good Luck . . . Miss You, Gran Fury, produced in 1995, their original strategies where "unable to communicate the complexities of AIDS issues" at that time. Over the course of their existence, some of Gran Fury's members included Richard Elovich, Avram Finkelstein, Amy Heard, Tom Kalin, John Lindell, Loring McAlpin, Marlene McCarty, Donald Moffett, Michael Nesline, Mark Simpson, and Robert Vazquez.
Physical Description
Extent: 1.25 linear feet (4 boxes, 9 oversize folders, 9 oversize items)
Type of Resource
Still image
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b14693399
MSS Unit ID: 3648
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): a54b6f80-c6b8-012f-4e07-58d385a7bc34
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