World AIDS Day (December 1), was designated in 1988 as an occasion to raise awareness of AIDS and to commemorate those lost to the disease. Developed by Visual AIDS, an organization that supports artists and communities affected by HIV and AIDS, this poster announces the first Day Without Art on December 1, 1989. Day Without Art, held annually for the last thirty years, is to “celebrate the lives and achievements of lost colleagues and friends; encourage caring for all people with AIDS; [educate] diverse publics about HIV infection; and [find] a cure.”[1] In solidarity with the occasion that inaugural year, choreographer Bill T. Jones decided to reschedule a sold-out performance, saying, “this day should be to us like Memorial Day. What [AIDS] means is that the light is no longer there; the stage is dark.”[2]

The first cases of what would come to be known as AIDS were recorded in 1981, and cases of infection rose rapidly to 150,000 per year by the mid-1980s.[3]This poster, designed by M Plus M Incorporated, reflects the sentiment expressed by Jones in 1989. The black background evokes the absence of those lost to AIDS as individuals, artists, and community members. The stark black ground also calls to mind the traditional black of mourning garments, reiterated in the purpose of the cause as stated on the poster: “A national day of mourning and call for action in response to the AIDS crisis…” “Visual AIDS” isolated and shattered, makes its double entendre abundantly clear, drawing graphic attention to the fragmentary influence the disease had (and continues to have) on communities and on the arts.


[1] “Day Without Art An International Day of Action and Mourning in Response to the Aids Crisis December 1st.” Visual AIDS. Accessed November 27, 2019.

[2] Atkins, Robert. “Scene & Heard: Day Without Art.” Village Voice, 1989.

[3] “HIV and AIDS — United States, 1981–2000.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 1, 2001.


Mir Finkelman is the Collections Assistant for Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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