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Billy, the world’s first out and proud gay doll
Text JF. Pierets Artwork John McKitterick & Juan Andres
To celebrate and document their conceptual artwork Billy, also known as Billy – The World’s First Out and Proud Gay Doll, artists John McKitterick and Juan Andres have launched a new website.
In the highly politically and emotionally charged atmosphere of London in the late 1980´s with the Thatcher government’s hostility towards the gay community resulting in the legislation of Section 28 and creativity in the capital derailed due to the AIDS epidemic, artists John McKitterick and Juan Andres began collaborating on a conceptual artwork. As artists they made a choice about the world they had to examine, respond to and present futures of.
The concept that directed the art they were to produce was the creation of a character, one who would capture the public’s imagination, attract positive attention, encourage debate and bring further visibility, understanding and acceptance of the new in all its diversity. The initial artwork was a purposefully controversial sculpture, presented naked, exaggerated, realistic and beautifully realised, an inspirational, social and sexual statement entitled Billy. A conceptual work of art and therefore totally premeditated, Billy was devised and planned in a manner that allowed for multiple artworks to be produced long after the exhibition of the initial sculpture. This approach was essential to McKitterick and Andres, so they would be able to continue to communicate the art concept into the future, to other artists, creatives and institutions, to the corporate, religious and political worlds and most importantly to the public, via further artworks, sculptures, art actions, exhibitions, books, music, film, photography, commercial products, charitable fundraising and the media. In order for the work to be successful McKitterick and Andres instinctively knew Billy had to exist both within the areas of and cross the boundaries between contemporary art and mass culture. This would be art through communication, collaboration and provocation, a place ‘where attitude becomes form.’
Billy was first exhibited on November 15th, 1994 as twelve distinctly related sculptures, each within an edition of one hundred, at The Freedom Gallery in Soho, London (sadly one week before Leigh Bowery´s Minty played their last gig at the venue). Immediately Billy was celebrated internationally by the mainstream media, arousing interest and excitement from other artists and was actively encouraged and applauded by a supportive public. The more conservative in society, including sections of the gay community, unwittingly providing more intended visibility and further debate, viciously attacked Billy, a postmodern mix of art, politics and sexuality. The newly launched official website illustrates the complete Billy phenomenon with images and text, documenting the history of the Billy concept from the years 1993 to 2003.
It is over twenty years since Billy was first exhibited as a sculpture at a London Arts Benefit for Aids in November 1994, in what was a highly politicized period in gay history. A conceptual artwork created by artists John McKitterick and Juan Andres, the Billy concept championed diversity, gay visibility, safe sex and Aids awareness. Originally 1200 limited editions of the Billy sculpture were created, garnering media attention on all five continents, in 32 countries and in ten languages.
‘Billy is not political art but rather art for political times.’
Following the great success of the sculpture, McKitterick and Andres kept firmly to the original concept and three years later Billy was purposely introduced to the mass market as Billy – The World’s First Out and Proud Gay Doll. Over the next decade Billy became the world’s first and most famous, gay product, a beautifully executed, technically advanced, mass produced doll, punching high above his height of 13 inches / 32cms.
After his US debut in 1997 Billy instantly became a iconic figure and saw himself in over 800 stores worldwide and the Billy concept developed to include his own website Billyworld, his boyfriend Carlos, his best friend Tyson, the soda Billy Pop, the music CD Out and About With Billy, himself dressed by Alexander McQueen and sixty five other designers and artists for the major exhibition and auction Billy Opens His Closet at The New Museum of Contemporary Art in Soho, New York, the movies Billy 2000 – Billy Goes Hollywood and Jeffrey’s Hollywood Screen Trick, the photographic book and exhibition Big Fun With Billy, himself in the Andy Warhol Museum and the Keith Haring Foundation, himself in the Science Museum’s permanent exhibit Making The Modern World and himself as 16 Feet Billy in an art exhibition in London.
Billy was honored alongside Lady Diana, Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John as one of the ’12 People of 1997’. With a single event in 1998 he raised over $425,000 for a major AIDS charity and articles have been written in major publications such as The Sunday Times, The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Guardian and El Pais, acknowledging Billy as a cultural phenomenon.
By 2004 John McKitterick and Juan Andres believed that the Billy concept had succeeded in its aims and objectives and began work on new art projects. Today Billy is highly sought after with editions commanding considerable prices at exhibition and auction. After six years in the jungles of Central America researching and developing new artworks, John McKitterick and Juan Andres returned to Europe to continue their art practice using the artistic name ‘oneandtwo’.
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