Helms Amendment


94 black and white framed photographs with text on mat, 6 vinyl wall texts and grey painted wall

25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in) (each photograph); Vinyl wall text: 26.1 x 17.7 cm (10 1/4 x 6 15/16 in)

In 1987, the AIDS epidemic was at a devastating height. While health centres and associations launched prevention campaigns, notably on the importance of condoms, the American senator Helms became indignant. He wanted to prohibit state funding of preventive actions that directly or indirectly referenced the question of homosexuality, which he considered immoral. His amendment was adopted by the House with ninety-four of the one hundred representatives voting in favour of the measure.

Ninety-four white cups on a black background are repeated in this photographic installation by the American artist Louise Lawler. To represent the abstentions and the handful of votes against this law, six wall texts appear at irregular intervals. The group is presented in alphabetical order of the US federal states.

Drawing an accusatory portrait of this assembly, the American artist Louise Lawler creates a photographic sequence through conceptual photography which conceals a strong political and emotional charge. The senators are represented by crude plastic cups. This object, magnified and institutionalized through a perfect black-and-white photograph, refers to the medical world (the cups used to take medication). Its serialization recalls military cemeteries, anonymous death. This repetition may also reflect the uniformity of the Senate, as well as the “disposable” character of the elected officials who succeed one another in the Senate seats, regardless of their political affiliation—in this case, the Democratic and Republican colours are deliberately inverted.

This work is presented for the first time by the Pinault Collection in the exhibition "Ouverture" at the Bourse de Commerce in 2021.