The Lazaretto: An Installation About The Current Status of the AIDS Crisis

The Lazaretto poster, 1990

The Lazaretto poster, 1990

The Lazaretto was an anonymously created installation exhibited at P·P·O·W gallery in September, 1990. The exhibition drew a parallel between the treatment of lepers 400 years earlier and people with AIDS in the present day—addressing high social discrimination against IV drug users, queer and hispanic communities and other communities of color. The title Lazaretto was taken from a 16th Century Venetian hospital for people with contagious diseases including leprosy—as well as the boats used to quarantine diseased people out at sea. 

The installation was presented anonymously in order to draw viewers attention to its message and away from the artists themselves. Behind the scenes, the piece was created by David Wojnarowicz with the goal of educating the public about the AIDS epidemic. David was extremely sick with HIV/AIDS himself and could not have realized his vision without the moral and physical support of his dedicated friends Paul Marcus and Susan Pyzow. 

Originally intended for a public space, David feared the message being censored and ultimately executed it at the gallery.  More than one reviewer later acknowledged this decision with one suggesting the NEA offer the installation a grant to travel and educate viewers outside New York.

The exhibition is set up as  a maze whose narrative-like experience  gives the viewer  no choice but to follow its path once they step inside. “The whole idea was totally control the flow of the audience,” explains Paul Marcus.The installation consists of four parts.