The Image They Left Behind


San Francisco artist Daniel Goldstein's work, a series called Icarian after the maker of the gym equipment it was created on, is getting some attention at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston.

The works are often compared to the well-known Shroud of Turin:

Goldstein2 "Goldstein discovered these artifacts not on an archeological dig, but in a popular San Francisco gym he frequented during the 1980s and 1990s. Recorded on pieces of leather that once covered the gym's equipment, the impressions reflect the former presence of not one human figure, but thousands of men who once rested against them as they sweated through their workouts.

Like Goldstein, nearly all the men whose body weight and perspiration contributed to a collective, unconscious form of printmaking were gay and HIV-positive. Unlike Goldstein, most of them didn't live long enough to witness and benefit from the pharmaceutical breakthroughs that transformed HIV from a death sentence to a chronic but manageable condition."

Writes Goldstein: "A sort of town square for the men who had come to San Francisco to live and love openly, in those early plague years (the gym) also became the place to exchange information, to find out who was ill, who had died. Working out took on an even greater ritual significance as gay men struggled to maintain the exterior appearance of health and to gain some measure of control over the disease which had begun to destroy them from the inside."

The works, which are part of an LGBT exhibition called Because We Are, will be on view through September 20.


  1. TANK says

    Yeah, a bit ghoulish not unlike the piles of shoes at the holocaust museum. I could understand if it were about an individual, but this is about the generic hiv sufferer of the eighties and early nineties. A more obvious and moving memorial could be offered, because it doesn’t provide a very flattering description of their lives by reducing it to one aspect (vanity).

  2. Rev. Joseph Shore-Goss says

    It wasn’t vanity it was a struggle to fight the disease the only way we knew how. Strengthen our bodies, work out that it may delay onset! Work out so that our frustration and anger would not be taken out on those we love. Work out to network with others who were scared, tired, and beaten!

  3. Auntie Dogma says

    That AIDS is a ‘chronic manageable illness’ is a myth perpetrated by the big drug companies. It might be those things in the short term for some people, but long term survivors are faced with a onslaught of horrifying side effects and HIV-related and HIV-caused illnesses.

    Repeating this myth leads to risky behaviors.

  4. TANK says

    That’s another interpretation, goss. It’s just this reduction (and all tributes are reductionist) can be viewed from that other perspective, too…and that’s not such a good thing. Gym culture and body beautiful with regard to gay men isn’t something I dislike (the vanity we’re associated with is used often to dismiss us)…but it’s not something I want to defined by, let alone remembered for.

  5. Name2 says

    Tank: “but it’s not something I want to defined by, let alone remembered for.”

    That’s quite an opening you’re leaving there, T, but I’ll be kind … and simply point out that this piece isn’t about YOU.

  6. A. Beaverhausen says

    Dan, let’s just hope you never have to learn a lesson from the “old school”. Had you not been a fetus then (or just really, really shallow), you’d know that AIDS was 1,000 times more significant than today’s issues of marriage equality, repealing DADT, passing ENDA, et cetera; and the tragedy was compounded because the lives of gay men weren’t considered worth saving. That last point is still being debated and underlies every discussion of gay (and lesbian) rights, which is why those subsequent issues are not slam dunks. That’s why this is art, and it’s trying to educate YOU!

  7. Rian says

    I moved to San Francisco in the fall of 1980. I moved away in 2001. I saw it all. I lost every friend and every man I loved. I am the only survivor of “my tribe”. The gym was a very important part of our daily lives….socially and physically… connected us and sustained us through years and years of sadness and grief. This artwork? Morbid? Perhaps to some. Not to me. When I read this entry my heart leapt and I saw all those beautiful men again in the shadows of the leather. Thank you.

  8. tbeth says

    Boy, you can sure tell who lived through that time and who didn’t. The images are so moving, the accretions of thousands of wonderful men’s lives culminating in one huge loss.

  9. booka says

    Dan’s attitude is SO typical of the younger generation of Gays (ironically, especially in SF). Ignorance so prejudicial, it mirrors the intolerance of outsiders back in the 80’s and early 90’s. As if they learned nothing, and don’t want to know, then add a touch of total lack of compassion, with a pinch of self absorption. Viola! A toxic cake, unworthy of marriage rights, or of standing on the graves of so many brave victims.

  10. says

    Thanks for the interesting and heartfelt comments, men. It’s good for me to know that different people interpret these pieces in different ways. Rian is absolutely right about the place of the Gay Gym for the Gay community during the height of the plague. It wasn’t merely a place to pump muscles. It was a place where we were trying to save our and each others lives. I helped start two AIDS organizations drawn from my gang of friends at the gym. Both organizations are going strong.
    I call these leather sculptures”Reliquaries” because to me they are what remains of the men I hold sacred. My lost generation.
    If you want to get more of a sense of what it was to live in San Francisco through those times, look for the film “We Were Here” by Davis Weissman. It will be coming out next winter. It is truly amazing. To Dan: I suggest you see this movie. It seems you’re a little short on the empathy gene. This film might help.

  11. rjp3 says

    Kinda gross and morbid, don’t you think?

    Why do old school gays insist on romanticizing HIV?

    Posted by: Dan | Jul 21, 2010 6:35:05 PM


    did not like it in my 20’s
    do not like pricks like this now

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