Garden for Harvey Milk Plaza 1986 – 1988

… comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep  – Whitman

AIDS Memorial
AIDS Memorial
AIDS Memorial Model

Off the Wall: AIDS and Public Art
by Robert Atkins. 1997

“San Francisco artist Rudy Lemcke conceived his memorial, “The Garden,” as a river of stones flowing over black granite, complemented by bronzed boulders that double as seating. To grace its granite walls he’s chosen the touching inscription from Walt Whitman: “…comrades mine and I in their midst, and their memory ever to keep.” It’s difficult to imagine a more affirming response to an epidemic that’s transformed the West Coast epicenter of American, gay life.

Harvey Milk Plaza for the site of his Zen-inspired, place of meditation. Located at the Market-and-Castro-streets entrance to one of the world’s preeminent gay ghettoes, this plaza is named after the city’s first openly gay supervisor, who was the target of a crazed assassin’s bullet in 1978. This highly symbolic location reminds us that the struggles of the past must be commemorated and institutionalized.

Although city officials approved the proposal in 1988, (mostly gay) opponents objected, one of the first such instances in the country. They vociferously argued that a memorial should await a cure and that the required $250,000 (to be raised privately) would be better spent on research or treatment. Lemcke countered that “psychological, spiritual and political health are also real needs that must be acknowledged. The garden is a symbol of life and continuity that will help meet them.” Currently helping to midwife the creation of the country’s first, municipally-funded, lesbian and gay cultural center, Lemcke believes that the garden will eventually be built. The unfinished story of this project–and there are many stories like Lemcke’s–is an allegory of survival against daunting odds. Creating this memorial is also a defiant act of faith.”

Artist’s Statement: 1988

Although the project was never realized, the plans and models were exhibited in several venues.

1987 – 1992

From Media to Metaphor (Group, Touring Exhibition), – curated by Robert Atkins
Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York, NY, United States

Emerson Galleries, New York, New York, United States
Center For Contemporary Art, Seattle, Washington, United States
Sharadin Art Gallery, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, United States

Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, California.
Fine Art Gallery, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
McKissick Museum, The University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Florida.
Musee D’Art Contemporain de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Monument & Memorial, Group Exhibition, New Langton Arts, San Francisco, California.

Garden for Harvey Milk Plaza, Art Museum of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz, California.

AIDS Memorial

Art Museum of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz, California. Installation view.

Some Press clippings from 1988.

Garden for Harvey Milk Plaza Press


Channel 4, Live at Five on Four. News Interview with artist Rudy Lemcke by Evan White.


National Public Radio

Newspapers and Periodicals

—-, “AIDS Garden Nears Reality,” Sentinel, August 4, 1988.

—-, “San Francisco AIDS Memorial,” Advocate Magazine, Los Angeles, September 27, 1988.

Griffith, Keith, “AIDS Activist Opposes Memorial,” Sentinel, August 19, 1988.

Hippler, Mike, “…Their Memory Ever to Keep,” Bay Area Reporter, August 4, 1988.

Lemcke, Rudy, “Garden Memorial Artist Responds,” Sentinel, August 19, 1988.

Porges, Maria, “San Francisco,” Contemporanea-International Arts Magazine, Italy, July/August, 1988.

Zane, Maitlan, “S. F. Memorial Garden for Victims of AIDS,” S.F. Chronicle, August 3, 1988. Local/Nation.

White, Allen, “Memorial Garden Planned For Plaza,” Bay Area Reporter, August 4, 1988.

Letters to the Editor (regarding the Memorial project)

Almanetti, Peter, “Untimely Memorial,” Sentinel, August 26, 1988.

Clayton, R.M., “Timely Exchange,” Sentinel, September 9, 1988

Youngblood, Tom, “Nameless Stars,” Sentinel, August 12, 1988.

Youngblood, Tom, “Bronze Harry,” Sentinel, September 2, 1988.

Monument and Memorial show at New Langton Arts

The models for the “Garden” were part of a group show at New Langton Arts in August 1988.

This Show was held in conjunction with other “South of Market (SOMA)” art galleries and spaces as a month long event called SOMARTS Against AIDS focusing on AIDS and its impact on the arts in San Francisco.

Baker, Kenneth, “Art That’s a Medium of Memory,” S.F. Chronicle, August 24, 1988.

Helfand, Glen, “Beneficial Arts,” Sentinel, July 29, 1988.

Calendar Listings/ Arts inserts

San Francisco Focus Magazine, Events, August, 1988.

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle, Datebook, August, 1988

Artweek, Gallery Listings, August, 1988.

SOMA magazine, Events, August, 1988.

Bay Area Reporter, Calendar, August, 1988.

Sentinel, Calendar, August, 1988.