Macho Man, Tell it to my Heart: Collected by Julie Ault is an exhibition of works selected from the collection of Julie Ault. As a founding member of the artists’ collaborative Group Material (1979-1996), and as artist, curator, writer and editor, Ault’s dense practice and its roots in long-standing friendships with artists are reflected in the unique nature of her collection. The exhibition makes apparent a body of experiences shared largely by a New York-based group of artists, and shaped by the social ruptures that impacted on the Downtown scene in the 1980s and 90s, foregrounding the ways in which the gifting and exchange of artworks cements both intellectual and emotional affinities.
For thirty-five years Julie Ault has engaged in various forms of collaborations and sustained dialogue with fellow artists. The sharing of artworks has marked these discourses, emanating from the address of politics, aesthetics and the social function of art that has structured Ault’s work, and that of many of her contemporaries. The formulation of such a substantial collection through swapping and gifting, speaks to a circulation of ideas through means alternative to the predominant economy of art mediated by institutions and galleries. In its scope, and encompassing of works produced from varying artistic standpoints, the collection also emphasizes the connectedness of art objects to specific contexts, and as such their mediation between private and public discourse. In the 1980s and early 90s Group Material’s projects similarly collated various cultural objects through “review, selection and critical juxtaposition,” a collective process that emphasized “shared learning and shared ideas.” Crucially this method of working was intent less on “reflecting than on projecting out into the community.” Equally, Julie Ault’s collection is distinct from an archive, instead espousing an inquiry into culture as proximities described over time.
The exhibition navigates the movement of the collection from the domestic context of Julie Ault’s homes in New York City and Joshua Tree, to the public realm. Works that have great personal resonance for her are placed into a context of communal engagement – the exhibition has been organized with Ault and a team of individuals who have collaborated with her in different capacities during the last three decades, including Danh Vo, Martin Beck, Jason Simon, and Heinz Peter Knes. Seen through the eyes of collective discussion and decision-making, the collection at its center articulates the politicized engagement against right-wing social and economic policy that emerged in 1980s and 90s New York, not least the activism that solidified around the AIDS Crisis. This bridge between art and politics is treated not as an historical moment, but a mode of address that exists within Ault’s collection and her affinities with other artists, up to the present day.