Kissing Doesn’t Kill

From June to December 1989, Gran Fury installed their “Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do” series on the sides of buses in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.  The series showed three couples – a straight couple, a gay couple, and a lesbian couple – of different races kissing.  It was designed to combat the myth that kissing could transmit AIDS, and is perhaps Gran Fury’s most famous and wide-reaching work.  Its white background and fashionable clothes and haircuts were reminiscent of the Olivero Toscani and his famous United Colors of Benetton campaigns.  The work exemplified one of Gran Fury’s most effective strategies to imitate the glossy styles of traditional advertising to capture and direct the attention of the view to AIDS issues.

In New York City, the work was financially supported by Creative Time, an arts institution founded in 1974 to sponsor public arts projects dealing with socially relevant issues.  Creative Time often worked with the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MTA Arts for Transit, and the Whitney Museum, and was considered part of the arts establishment.  Their support is representative of the support Gran Fury often received from the arts establishment beginning in the end of the decade.

The New York version differed slightly from those found in the other three cities; it contained the caption: “Corporate Greed, Government Inaction, and Public Indifference Make AIDS a Political Crisis.”  However, some of the corporate sponsors of Art Against AIDS on the Road, the group backing the work in the other three cities, objected to Gran Fury’s reference to corporate greed, and that part was eliminated in those cities.

A video version of the piece was originally commissioned for ABC, but was eventually rejected by the network for its overtly political content.  Instead, it was broadcast during commercial breaks on MTV in 1990.

(Speretta, 177-182)