Gail Thacker, Mark Morrisroe in Bed, 1989. Chromogenic color print, 16 1/4 × 12 1/2 inches (41.3 × 31.8 cm). Acquired through the generosity of Louis Wiley, Jr. Courtesy the artist and Louis Wiley, Jr. © Gail Thacker
Artist Gail Thacker is best known for using Polaroid film to capture her circle of friends and partners and New York City environs. Thacker experimented with the photographic process, printing from both the positive and negatives of Polaroid film, leaving film unwashed to allow the chemicals to continue to process, and marking the surface of her images. From 1978 to 1981, she attended The School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, studying video, photography, and painting alongside an influential cohort of students that included David Armstrong, Pat Hearn, Nan Goldin, Jack Pierson, and Mark Morrisroe. This group formed the so-called “Boston School,” and is celebrated for merging photography, film and video, and performance with the city’s punk music scene to explore identity, sexuality, and subcultures. The ICA presented an exhibition of the Boston School in 1995, which helped cement this loose group as an artistic movement. In 1982, Thacker relocated to New York, becoming involved with theater and LGBTQ communities and remaining close with Morrisroe and Hearn until their deaths.
Thacker made Mark Morrisroe in Bed the same year Morrisroe died of AIDS-related illnesses. The artist frequently relates her embrace of the fugitive qualities of the photographic medium to her experience of the AIDS epidemic, which took the lives of many of her friends and partners: “The only thing I [had] control over was my relationship to these Polaroids. This was the only way I could stop time from destroying the rest of my friends.” Shooting from a low angle with a 35mm camera, Thacker fills the lower half of the photograph with a terrain of blurry bedding and focuses on Morrisroe’s face and tousled hair. Compared to the surface and image manipulations present in much of Thacker’s work, this photograph appears relatively untouched. Here, the artist dedicates herself to the sensitive depiction of her community and to the primacy of personal and domestic spaces. Mark Morrisroe in Bed documents not only deep intimacy and friendship, but also the toll of HIV/AIDS on the lives of countless artists.
Mark Morrisroe in Bed introduces a new artist to the ICA’s collection. This work joins photographs by many of Thacker’s peers, including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nan Goldin, and Mark Morrisroe and expands the museum’s capacity to tell a more complete story of Boston School artists. Furthermore, it joins 1980s photographs by such artists as Jimmy De Sana, Ray Navarro, and Nicholas Nixon that also reflect the inventiveness and poignancy of art in the time of AIDS.