Archive for the 'installation art' Category

16
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Bill Henson: Landscapes’ at Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 30th April – 30th June 2016

 

Drawing on light

A magnificent installation from one of the world’s great photographers.

Why this artist is not having sell out retrospectives at MoMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou Paris or the Tate in London is beyond me. Is it because of continuing cultural cringe, or the fact that he’s not as well known in Europe and America?

Their loss is our gain.

The darkened room contains only eight images beautifully lit to create a wondrous, enveloping atmosphere. Henson’s night photographs emit light as though a result of the excitation of atoms by energy – the energy of the mind transferred to the light of place. A luminescence of thought is imaged in the photograph through the emission of light … produced not so much by physiological or electromagnetic processes as much as by a culturally informed mind that seems to bring forth its own light. And behold there is light.

As that eminent photographer Minor White used to opine when asked for technical information on his photographs in the back of popular American photography monthlies: for technical information the camera was creatively used.

For me, these are not images of ethereal malevolence or Australian anxiety about our environment and the ominous ordinary. They do not possess that feeling at all. These pictures are about an understanding and contemplation of light and place, a process which is in balance one with the other. Yes, the transient nature of earthly existence but more than that. The soft details of flowers in the grass, or the spatter of rain on water, not noticed until you really look at the image; or the shadow of a truck on a bridge underpass. In my mind I know where this is, in Gipps Street, Abbottsford near the train bridge… or so I believe in my imagination. All of these photographs have a feeling of a subtle vibration of energy in the universe. There is no malevolence here.

My only criticism of this, the first photographic exhibition at Castlemaine Art Gallery, is that there is not enough of it. There needed to be more of the work. It just felt a little light on. Another gallery was needed to make the installation experience fully enveloping. Having said that, congratulations must go to the artist and to gallery who are putting on some amazing exhibitions in the heart of regional Victoria.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Opening titles for the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Opening titles for the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 2005/2006' 2005-2006

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #9 2005/2006
2005-2006
CL SH541 N2
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 2005/2006' (detail) 2005-2006

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #9 2005/2006 (detail)
2005-2006
CL SH541 N2
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with Untitled #21 2005/2006 at left and Untitled #9 2005/2006 at right

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #21 2005-2006' (detail) 2005-2006

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #21 2005-2006 (detail)
2005-2006
CL SH541 N2
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 1999/2000' 1999-2000

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 1999-2000
1999-2000
Type C photograph
103.8 x 154.0 cm (image) 126.8 x 179.9 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2005 (2005.501)
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“Our current exhibition, Bill Henson: Landscapes captures the haunting convergence of opposites; two worlds, darkness and light.

These dreamlike pictures pursue the Romantic project by engulfing the viewer in the urban or semi-rural sublime. Through these landscapes, we are immersed in a realm which offers an otherworldly view of the transient nature of earthly existence. The inky depths of the encroaching natural environment suggest a dark abyss, an ethereal malevolence that relates to both the artistic conventions of Renaissance landscape painting and, a uniquely Australian anxiety about our environment and the ominous ordinary.”

Text from the Castlemaine Art Gallery Facebook page

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with Untitled #23, 1998/1999/2000 at right bottom

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 2001-2002' 2001–2002

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 2001-2002
2001-2002
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm (sheet)
1 of 5
Collection of Annabel and Rupert Myer

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 2001/02' (detail) 2001–02

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 2001-2002 (detail)
2001-2002
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm (sheet)
1 of 5
Collection of Annabel and Rupert Myer

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with Untitled #28 1998 at right

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #28' (detail) 1998

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #28 (detail)
1998
CL SH 290 N3A
Type C photograph
104 × 154cm

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #48' (detail) 1998/1999/2000

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #48 (detail)
1998/1999/2000
CL SH 367 N11
Type C photograph
127 × 180cm

 

 

Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum
14 Lyttleton Street (PO Box 248)
Castlemaine, Vic 3450 Australia
Phone: (03) 5472 2292
Email: info@castlemainegallery.com

Opening hours:
Monday        10am – 5pm
Tuesday       CLOSED
Wednesday   10am – 5pm
Thursday      10am – 5pm
Friday          10am – 5pm
Saturday      12pm – 5pm
Sunday        12pm – 5pm

Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

19
Mar
16

Exhibition: ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart

Exhibition dates: 28 November 2015 – 28 March 2016

 

Gentlemen of the gutter

While I admire the mythology of Gilbert and George, that ever so British pair of deviant artists, they have never been among my favourites.

They had a tough road. Imagine meeting in 1967, pre-Stonewall and the beginning of gay liberation, and then moving into the roughest part of London, the East End, to live together and make art, dressed as a pair of besuited businessmen. The prejudice and the abuse would have been intense, but they stuck together, they stuck to their path as artists, and they stuck to each other as human beings. It is fascinating to see the trajectory of their development, to follow the development of the grid, the introduction of one colour and then multiple colours.

I understand what they do, empathise with their endeavour (anti- nationalism, religion, bigotry, racism, homophobia etc etc…) but wonder whether they have not painted themselves and their art into a corner. They are so well known for their long running performance – their vaudeville act reminding me of a contemporary Hieronymus Bosch with text ripped from the headlines / images riffed from hell (portraits of cut up reflections assembled to make surreal creatures with gaping mouths), the gridded works, the colours, the content AS graphic gothic cathedral with stained glass windows – that they seem incapable or willing to push themselves and their art further. To shock us in an altogether different way? Now that would be a greater surprise, than just semen, spit and shit.

What I am saying is that they have got their schtick down pat. They worked hard for their anti-establishment schlock horror. The work has presence and they do know how to reach people with a picture but with each repetition, with each ritual performance the cracks grow ever larger. As John McDonald observes, “They are iconoclastic non-entities making art that attracts and repels.” What actually lies underneath all of this rhetoric. Two caring human beings, two compassionate souls? I think not, therefore I am.**

As can be seen in many of their works, the emperors literally have no clothes…

Marcus

** Perhaps it should have been “I care not, therefore I am” … because they don’t really give a dam what people think. This is part of the problem: their rather mean spirited view of the world.

.
Many thankx to MONA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Gilbert & George In Conversation With Olivier Varenne

 

 

“We are unhealthy, middle-aged, dirty-minded, depressed, cynical, empty, tired-brained, seedy, rotten, dreaming, badly-behaved, ill-mannered, arrogant, intellectual, self-pitying, honest, successful, hard-working, thoughtful, artistic, religious, fascistic, blood-thirsty, teasing, destructive, ambitious, colourful, damned, stubborn, perverted and good. We are artists.”

.
“Art has just become decoration for the very, very rich. We manage to keep our feet on the ground. We have never been part of an elitist art group. Our art is so confrontational that a lot of collectors would never touch it because they don’t want a naked shit picture in their living room… More and more it is difficult to speak as an artist. Nobody hears you because there are too many and there are too many different ways of making art today that there didn’t use to be when we started out in 1969.”

.
“We never go to the cinema, the theatre, or the ballet or opera. We stopped 40 years ago. We just didn’t want to become contaminated. We know what we’re interested in, we know how we can reach people with a picture. We have a feeling, what we put in that picture that will mean something to somebody.”

.
Gilbert & George

 

 

“Two people, but one artist: the legendary Gilbert & George’s first ever exhibition in Australasia, Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition, is now open at the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, Australia, until March 28, 2016.

Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition is a major retrospective, including pictures spanning five decades; dating from 1970 to most recent pictures of 2014. Curated by Gilbert & George with organising curators, Mona’s Co-Directors of Exhibitions and Collections, Olivier Varenne and Nicole Durling, the pictures are installed across the entirety of Mona’s touring galleries, 14 metres underground.

“Our pictures deal with the great universals: death, hope, life, fear, sex, money, race and religion. Seeing is believing. See for yourself: Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition. This is your very first – and last – chance to see one hundred of our pictures, at the wonderful Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania.” – Gilbert & George

Since first meeting at St Martin’s school of Art, London, in 1967, Gilbert & George have lived and worked together as one single and fiercely independent artist, dedicated solely to the creation of their art. They have no allegiance to any other trend, school, movement, doctrine, theory or style of art.

Gilbert & George already knew that they were seeking for a form of art that was to them entirely rooted in the real world – in the streets and clamour and traffic and buildings and hearts of strangers: an “Art for All.”

Today, their art continues to be multi-allusive, contemporary and contentious, as their subject is literally at their feet – along countless streets, the thoroughfares of the passage of millions of lives, and dense with the sedimentary tracings of social existence.”

Text from MONA

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart featuring, at left, BOMBERS (2006), and at right, FORWARD (2008)

 

Gilbert & George. 'FORWARD' 2008

 

Gilbert & George
FORWARD
2008
Mixed media
381 x 604 cm
Courtesy of the artists and White Cube

 

Gilbert & George. 'BOMBERS' 2006

 

Gilbert & George
BOMBERS
2006
From Bomb Pictures
Mixed media
336 x 493 cm
Courtesy of the artists and White Cube

 

Gilbert & George created an important group of six pictures for their major retrospective at Tate Modern. The six Bomb Pictures, the only pictures created by the artists in 2006, comprise a 14 metre triptych entitled Bomb and five other pictures: Bombs; Bomber; Bombers; Bombing; and Terror. The artists have described this group of pictures as their most chilling to date. The artists intend the pictures to be seen as modern townscapes reflecting the daily exposure in urban life to terror alerts. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at left, TOPSY TURVY (1989) from The Cosmological Pictures

 

Gilbert & George. 'DEAD HEAD' 1989

 

Gilbert & George
DEAD HEAD
1989
From The Cosmological Pictures
Picture courtesy of the artists and Mona, Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania, Australia

 

With this body of work Gilbert & George stress the power of human thought to remake life and so create the future through a process of communication, discussion and questioning, stimulated by the pictures. The word ‘cosmology’ derives from the Greek words for ‘world’ and ‘discourse’. Since September 1991, The Cosmological Pictures have been touring many European cities. Gilbert and George’s aim – to speak to many people in all of these cities – is at the heart of their cosmology.  (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at left, NEXT DOOR (2013), in the middle HANDBALL (2008), and at right, SUICIDE STRAIGHT (2011) from The London Pictures.

 

Gilbert & George. 'KILLERS STRAIGHT' 2011

 

Gilbert & George
KILLERS STRAIGHT
2011
From The London Pictures

 

The London Pictures are made up of 292 of the 3,712 newspaper ‘bills’ the pair have doggedly pilfered from outside London newsagents over many years. The pictures present an epic survey of modern urban life in all its volatility, tragedy, absurdity and routine violence. They are Dickensian in scope and ultra-modern in sensibility. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, in the middle HANDBALL (2008), and at right, SUICIDE STRAIGHT (2011) from The London Pictures.

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, from left (large pictures), CITY DROP (1991), FLAT MAN (1991), EIGHT SHITS (1994) and ILL WORLD (1994), both from The Naked Shit Pictures

 

Gilbert & George. 'ILL WORLD' 1994

 

Gilbert & George
ILL WORLD
1994
Mixed media
253 x 426 cm
Courtesy of the artists

 

The frieze-like composition of The Naked Shit Pictures, with its striking contrasts of scale, was displayed high on the gallery walls. As the title indicates, works in the group depict the artists naked, or semi-dressed, often in conjunction with scaled-up images of faeces. These primary motifs are juxtaposed with urban/parkland scenes, giant anonymous suited bodies and the artists, or set against colour grounds. Marked contrasts in scale are a dominant feature in the series. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at middle, IN THEIR ELEMENT (1998) from the series The Rudimentary Pictures (1998) followed by FIVE (1992)

 

Gilbert & George. 'IN THEIR ELEMENT' 1988

 

Gilbert & George
IN THEIR ELEMENT
1988
From the series The Rudimentary Pictures
Mixed media
254 x 528 cm
Courtesy of the artists

 

The Rudimentary Pictures, presents thirty-three new works, in which they explore such themes as alienation, sex, race, and human existence. Many of these striking pictures extend the distinctive range of images they have created exploring city life. In Gum City, City Sweat, Money City, Blood City, Piss City, Sex City and Crying City, backgrounds of London street plans are combined with map-like microscopic details of blood, sweat, tears, urine and semen, together with themselves. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at middle, FLYING SHIT WHEEL OF DEATH (1998) and, at right, RAIN WHEEL OF LIFE (1998), both from The Rudimentary Pictures

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Gilbert & George
FLYING SHIT WHEEL OF DEATH
1998
from the series The Rudimentary Pictures

 

book-a

 

Gilbert & George hardcover catalogue
Photo Credit: Mona/Rémi Chauvin
Image Courtesy Mona, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

 

Gilbert & George. 'RED MORNING DEATH' 1977

 

Gilbert & George
RED MORNING DEATH
1977
Mixed media
241 x 201 cm
Private collection

 

Gilbert & George. 'BLACK JESUS' 1980

 

Gilbert & George
BLACK JESUS
1980
Mixed media
181 x 251 cm
Private collection

 

In the early 1980s, Gilbert & George began to add a range of bright colours to their photographic images. They dramatically expanded their palette although black & white still remained. The series of photo-pieces that emerge during this vibrant period display a heightened reality, moving away from the earlier naturalism. They also began photographing each other as gargoyles, producing large close-ups of their faces, lit from below, grimacing horribly. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

 

“… In a show as vast as the MONA survey, one sees the shit pictures as only a small chapter in their catalogue of would-be outrages. There are microscopic close-ups of their own sweat, blood, piss and sperm, presented as a form of decorative art. There are galleries of handsome young men, lined up like homoerotic altarpieces. There are works that excoriate religion – all forms of religion – and nationalism.

It would be an understatement to say these works sail close to the edge – they have plunged joyously over the precipice, beyond any conventions of good or bad taste. The “moral dimension” Gilbert & George seek is a systematic attempt to explode everything they see as false morality and hypocrisy. Homophobia is a constant target, as is racism and religious dogmatism. They are not the first to see organised religion as the root of all evil, but few artists or thinkers have been so consistently, so violently anti-religious.

The joke, of course, is that they look and act like conservative businessmen. Even their most confronting works are as bold and colourful as advertising billboards, or perhaps stained glass windows. They are iconoclastic non-entities making art that attracts and repels.

From behind a façade of consummate Englishness they set out to expose the grossness and depravity of the world around them. The Jack Freak Pictures (2008) use images of the Union Jack combined with grotesque morphings of their own figures that make them look like demons or mutants. The London Pictures (2011) use hundreds of daily newspaper banners, purloined from newsagents, to produce a chorus of sordidness and sensationalism.

We see two deadpan comedians enjoying the adolescent humour of exposing themselves to an audience, making wall-sized images of all those things not spoken of in ‘polite’ society. I could almost accept the idea of Gilbert & George as two overgrown children, intent on making mischief, but every so often they hit the mark with surprising force.”

.
John McDonald. “Gilbert & George,” on the John McDonald website December 4, 2015 [Online] Cited 11/03/2016.

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at left, MONEY (2011) from The London Pictures and, at right, Raack (2005) from Ginkgo Pictures

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at left, VALLANCE ROAD (2013); at centre left RIDLEY ROAD (2013) and at centre right HABDABS (2013) all from the series Scapegoating Pictures

 

There are 292 pieces in this series featuring whippets and hippy crack (laughing gas). The SCAPEGOATING PICTURES unflinchingly describe the volatile, tense, accelerated and mysterious reality of our increasingly technological, multi-faith and multi-cultural world. It is a world in which paranoia, fundamentalism, surveillance, religion, accusation and victimhood become moral shades of the city’s temper. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at left, Citied Gents (2005) from Ginkgo Pictures; at left rear, COLOURED FRIENDS (1982); and at right rear SPEAKING YOUTH (1981)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at left, RAIN WHEEL OF LIFE (1998), and at right KINK (1998), both from The Rudimentary Pictures

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, at left, TONGUES (1992) followed by IN THEIR ELEMENT (1998) from the series The Rudimentary Pictures followed by FIVE (1992); to the right TOFF’S OUT! (2014) followed by THEY SHOT THEM! (2014), both from the series Utopian Pictures

 

Gilbert & George. 'THEY SHOT THEM!' 2014

 

Gilbert & George
THEY SHOT THEM!
2014
Mixed media
254 x 453 cm
Courtesy of ARNDT and Gilbert & George

 

The 26 UTOPIAN PICTURES convey, like an energy storm, the frenetic forces of an endlessly embattled state: between the voices of authority and civic order. These pictures depict a modern world in which authority and the resentment of authority, rules and rebellion, advertising and public information, dogma and warning, boasts and threats co-exist in seemingly endless proclamations. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, from left to right, SHIT ON SPIT (1997) from The New Testamental Pictures, BLOOD ROADS (1998), BLOOD CITY (1998) and PISS GARDEN (1998) from The Rudimentary Pictures

 

Gilbert & George. 'BLOOD CITY' 1988

 

Gilbert & George
BLOOD CITY
1988
Mixed media
151 x 127 cm
Courtesy of the artists

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with at left, KINK (1998), and at rear, COLD STREET (1991)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with, from left to right, BLOODY LIFE No. 4 (1975), AKIMBO (2005) from Sonofagod Pictures, SHITTY WORLD (1994), DEAD HEAD (1989), and CHRISTS (1992) from The China Pictures

 

 

In the BLOODY LIFE pictures, from 1975, Gilbert & George strike poses with clenched fists and legs kicking. Even the introspective image of the artists in BLOODY LIFE NO.3 is embedded within a frame of alcohol and the boxing ring. The brutality of these pictures reflects their experience at the time. ‘We went through this big destructive period of the drunken scenery, exploring ourselves, exploring our dark side, going out, getting drunk, all those destructive elements’. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

The SONOFAGOD PICTURES consist of 20 paintings that possess a darkly graven strangeness, at once archaic and ultra-modern, in which their temper no less than their signage appears deeply contemporary, ritualistic and disturbed and have all of the dramatic visual impact which one might expect to find in neo-Gothic medievalism.

Christs shows a local youth imagining a butterfly Christ with Gilbert and George wings.

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition’ at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition Gilbert & George: The Art Exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart with at left, FORWARD (2008) and in the middle right, SCAPEGOATING (2013)

 

Gilbert & George. 'ASTRO STAR' 2013

 

Gilbert & George
ASTRO STAR
2013
From Scapegoating Pictures
Picture courtesy of the artists and Mona, Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania, Australia

 

There are 292 pieces in this series featuring whippets and hippy crack (laughing gas). The SCAPEGOATING PICTURES unflinchingly describe the volatile, tense, accelerated and mysterious reality of our increasingly technological, multi-faith and multi-cultural world. It is a world in which paranoia, fundamentalism, surveillance, religion, accusation and victimhood become moral shades of the city’s temper. (Text by Barry Grayshon)

 

Gilbert & George. 'FIGHT BACK' 2014

 

Gilbert & George
FIGHT BACK
2014
From the series Utopian Pictures
Mixed media
254 x 377cm
Courtesy of ARNDT and Gilbert & George

 

Gilbert & George. 'ONE WORLD' 1988

 

Gilbert & George
ONE WORLD
1988
Mixed media
226 x 254 cm
Courtesy of the artists

 

Gilbert & George 'ALL MY LIFE I GIVE YOU NOTHING AND STILL YOU ASK FOR MORE' 1970 (Gilbert)

 

Gilbert & George
ALL MY LIFE I GIVE YOU NOTHING AND STILL YOU ASK FOR MORE (Gilbert)
1970
Mixed media
Each 193 x 75 cm
Private collection

 

Gilbert & George 'ALL MY LIFE I GIVE YOU NOTHING AND STILL YOU ASK FOR MORE' 1970 (George)

 

Gilbert & George
ALL MY LIFE I GIVE YOU NOTHING AND STILL YOU ASK FOR MORE (George)
1970
Mixed media
Each 193 x 75 cm
Private collection

 

 

Museum of Old and New Art
655 Main Road Berriedale
Hobart Tasmania 7011, Australia

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm

MONA website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

21
Feb
16

Review: ‘On the beach’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 11th December 2015 – 28th February 2016

Curator: Wendy Garden

 

 

This is another solid thematic group exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery (curator Wendy Garden), following on from their recent success, Storm in a teacup.

The exhibition is not as successful as Storm in a teacup, mainly because most of the works are based on the monolithic, monosyllabic representation of beach culture, and its figuration, during the early decades of the twentieth century (White Australia policy, Australian stereotypes of the interwar period) and the re-staging of these ideas in the contemporary art presented through a diachronic (through/time), performative discourse.

There is so much re-staging in this exhibition I was left to wonder whether there was any original art work being produced that does not quote sources of history, memory, identity, representation and art from past generations. Daniel Boyd re-stages Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay with said hero as a pirate. Stephen Bowers replicates the Minton willow pattern motif and early paintings of kangaroos. Leanne Tobin re-stages Bungaree’s disrobing on the beach during his journey with Matthew Flinders. Diane Jones re-stages Max Dupain’s Sunbaker replacing the anonymous prostrate man with her head looking into the camera, or Dupain’s Form at Bondi with her head turned towards the camera. Worst offender is Anne Zahalka who re-states Dupain’s Sunbaker (again!) as a red-headed white women on the beach; or re-presents Charles Meere’s Australian beach pattern (1940, below) not once but twice – the first time in The bathers (1989) broadening the racial background of people to depict multicultural Australia in the 1980s, the second time in The new bathers (2013) broadening the mix even further. Most successful of these re-stagings is Michael Cook’s series of photographs Undiscovered in which the artist subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement, that of terra nullius, by depicting Captain Cook as black and positioning him in high-key, grey photographs of impressive beauty and power, surveying the land he has ‘discovered’ while perched upon an invisibly balanced ladder.

But with all of the works that quote from the past there is a sense that, even as the artists are critiquing the culture, they are also buying into the system of patriarchy, racism and control that they seek to comment on. They do not subvert the situation, merely (and locally) extrapolate from it. The idealised, iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture in the paintings from the 1920-30s and the photographs from the 1940s-70s – specimens of perfect physical beauty – are simply shifted to a new demographic – that of iconic, individual figures in the same poses as the 1940s but of a different ethnicity. The colour of the figure and the clothing might have changed, but the underlying structure remains the same. And if you disturb one of the foundation elements, such as the base figure in one of George Caddy’s balancing beachobatics photographs, the whole rotten edifice of a racism free, multicultural Australia will come tumbling down, just as it did during the Cronulla Riot.

What I would have liked to have seen in this exhibition was a greater breadth of subject matter. Where are the homeless people living near the beach, the sex (for example, as portrayed in Tracey Moffat’s voyeuristic home video Heaven which shows footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits in car parks – “shot by Moffatt and a number of other women as if they were making a birdwatching documentary” – which challenges the masculinity of Australian surf culture and the ability of women to stare at men, instead of the other way around), death (drownings on beaches, the heartbreak of loss), and debauchery (the fluxus of Schoolies, that Neo-Dada performance of noise and movement), the abstract nature of Pictorialist photographs of the beach, not to mention erosion and environmental loss due to global warming. The works presented seem to have a too narrowly defined conceptual base, and a present narrative constructed on a coterie of earlier works representing what it is to be Australian at the beach. The contemporary narrative does not address the fluidity of the landscape in present time (in works such as Narelle Autio’s series Watercolours or The place in between).

The dark underside of the beach, its abstract fluidity, its constant movement is least well represented in this exhibition. Although I felt engaged as a viewer the constant re-quoting and rehashing of familiar forms left me a little bored. I wanted more inventiveness, more insight into the conditions and phenomena of beach culture in contemporary Australia. An interesting exhibition but an opportunity missed.

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish most of the photographs in the posting. Other photographs come from Art Blart’s archive and those freely available online. Thankx also go to Manuela Furci, Director of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive for allowing me to publish his photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text comes from the wall labels to the exhibition.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with Daniel Boyd’s We call them pirates out here (2006, below)

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982) 'We call them pirates out here' 2006

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982)
We call them pirates out here
2006
Museum of Contemporary Art
Purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006

 

 

“The landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to the birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an indigenous person’s perspective allowed for me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.” – Daniel Boyd, 2008

.
In this painting Daniel Boyd parodies E. Phillips Fox’s celebrated painting which was commissioned in 1902 by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria to commemorate federation. No longer an image valorising colonial achievement, Boyd recasts the scene as one of theft and invasion. Captain Cook is depicted as a pirate to contest his heroic status in Australia’s foundation narratives. Smoke in the distance is evidence of human occupation and is a direct retort to the declaration that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to no-one, which was used to justify British possession.

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard' 2012 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard
2012
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' (detail) 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons) (detail)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

 

In these works Bowers combines the willow pattern motif, a ready-made metaphor of hybridity, with an image of a kangaroo as envisioned by George Stubbs in 1772. The willow pattern as an English invention, created by Thomas Minton in 1790. It is an imaginative geography and, like the first known European painting of a kangaroo, considers other lands as strange, exotic places. In this work the imagery of colonial occupation is visualised as a fusion of cultures underpinned by half-truths, fantasy and desire.

 

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

 

Installation views of Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012)

 

Leanne Tobin (b, 1961)
Clothes don’t always maketh the man (detail)
2012
Sand, textile, wood
Collection of the artist

 

 

Bungaree (c. 1755-1830) was a Garigal man who circumnavigated the continent of Australia with Matthew Flinders on the H.M.S. Investigator between 1802-03. Unlike Bennelong, who attempted to assimilate with British ways and Pemulwuy, who resisted, Bungaree made the decision to navigate a relationship with the British while still maintaining his cultural traditions. He played an important role as an envoy on Flinder’s voyages, negotiating with the different Aboriginal groups they encountered. A skilled mediator, Bungaree was adept at living between both worlds. When coming ashore he would shed his white man’s clothes so that he could conduct protocol relevant to the local elders. In this respect the beach became a zone of transformation and exchange.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with in the foreground, Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012), and in the background photographs from Michael Cook’s Undiscovered series (2010, below)

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968) 'Undiscovered 4' 2010

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968)
Undiscovered 4
2010
inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper
124.0 x 100.0 cm
Australian National Maritime Museum

 

 

A selection of works from a series of ten photographs in which Michael Cook contests the idea of ‘discovery’ that underpins narratives of the British settlement of Australia… Cook depicts the historic Cook as an Aboriginal man replete in his British naval officers attire. His ship, the famed Endeavour, is anchored in the sea behind him. By mimicking the moment of first discovery Cook subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement and asks us to consider what type of national Australia would be if the British had acknowledged Aboriginal people’s prior ownership.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery showing, at top left, Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939); to the right of that Dupain’s At Newport (1952, below); to the right upper is George Caddy’s Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937 (below); followed at far right by Rennie Ellis’ St Kilda Lifesavers (1968, top) and David Moore’s Lifesavers at Manly (1959, bottom)

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport' 1952, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
At Newport
1952, Sydney
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937' 1937

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937
1937
Digital print on paper
Paul Caddy collection
Courtesy of Paul Caddy

 

 

Like Max Dupain, who was three years his senior, Caddy was interested in the new modernist approach to photography. During 1936 he read magazines such as Popular Photography from New York and US Camera rather than Australasian Photo-Review which continued to champion soft-focus pictorialism. This photograph was taken the same year as Dupain’s famous Sunbather photograph. The framing and angle is similar reflecting their common interest in sharp focus, unusual vantage points and cold composition.

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938' 1938

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938
1938
Digital print
Collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Purchased from Paul Caddy, 2008

 

 

This photograph was taken only months after an infamous rescue at Bondi. On 6 February 1938 a sand bar collapsed sweeping two hundred people out to sea. 80 lifesavers rescued all but 5 people in a day subsequently described as Black Sunday. By 1938 the Surf Life Saving Association, which incorporated clubs from around Australia, had rescued 39,149 lives in its 30 year history. In 1938 alone there were 3,442 rescues. Up until the events of Black Sunday no one had drowned while lifesavers were on duty at Australian beaches. In comparison 2,000 people drowned in England each year.1

  1. Alan Davies, Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his amera, Sydney: State Library of New South Wales, p. 13.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below) and, at right, a selection of George Caddy’s beachobatics photographs.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937, top) with Diane Jones Sunbaker (2003, below); in the centre Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below); then Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939, top) with Diane Jones Bondi (2003) underneath.

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989
Type C photograph

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere's 'Australian beach pattern' (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka's 'The bathers' (1989)

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere’s painting Australian beach pattern (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka’s photograph The bathers (1989) from the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989, in which Zahalka restates Charles Meere’s painting to subvert the narrow stereotype of the Australian ideal… In this work Zahalka broadens the racial background of people depicted to create a more representative image of multicultural Australia in the 1980s.

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961) 'Australian beach pattern' 1940 (detail)

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961)
Australian beach pattern (detail)
1940
Oil and wax on canvas
Collection of Joy Chambers-Grundy and Reg Grundy AC OBE

 

 

A now iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture… The scene is dominated by a mass of suntanned bodies: muscular, square-jawed white Australians – specimens of perfect physical beauty – enjoying the strenuous physical activities of the beach. A glorification of the strong, healthy, racially pure Australian ideal of the 1930s, it is eerily reminiscent of Nazi German Aryan propaganda between the wars.

Notably, the figures themselves all appear anonymous and disconnected, with indistinct facial features that show no acknowledgement of their fellow beach-goers. Their identities are overwhelmed by Meere’s obsession with arrangement. Rather than reflect real life, the figures are placed to create an idealised work of perfect balance. It is fascinating to consider that this iconic representation of Australian beach culture actually came from the imagination of an Englishman, who had only lived in Australia since the mid-1930s and who, according to his apprentice, ‘never went to the beach’ and ‘made up most of the figures’.1

  1. Freda Robertshaw quoted in Linda Slutzkin, Charles Meere 1890-1961. Sydney: S. H. Ervin Gallery, 1987, p. 6.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, George Caddy’s beachobatic photographs, and on the far wall Sidney Nolan’s Bathers (1943, below) and Jeffrey Smart’s Surfers Bondi (1963, below)

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) 'Bathers' 1943

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Bathers
1943
Ripolin enamel on canvas
Headed Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of John and Sunday Reed, 1982

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) 'Surfers Bondi' 1963

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013)
Surfers Bondi
1963
Oil on board
Private collection

 

 

“When bans on daylight bathing were lifted in 1902, the beach became a prime leisure destination. The beach became not only as a public space of recreation but also as a place where the Australian identity was developing, for many epitomizing the liberties of Australia’s society. On the beach brings together 76 outstanding and iconic paintings, photographs and installations to consider the defining relationship we have to the shore.

Works by artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Arthur Boyd, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Max Dupain, Charles Meere, Tracey Moffatt, David Moore, Sidney Nolan, Polixeni Papapetrou, John Perceval, Scott Redford, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Guan Wei and Anne Zahalka, as well as outstanding recently discovered works by George Caddy (see above). A champion jitterbug dancer, Caddy’s photographs of ‘beachobatics’ were kept undisturbed in a shoebox for 60 years until they were ‘discovered’ by his son after his death. They capture the exuberance and optimism of Australian society between the wars.

The beach first became a prime leisure destination in the early decades of the twentieth century. Up to Federation many artists had looked to the bush to galvanise a fledging nationalism, but during the interwar years this shifted and increasingly the beach became the site of Australian identity. Already by 1908 one Melbourne newspaper commented upon the ‘vast throng of holidaymakers all along the coast.’ In the years following the First World War, against a backdrop of a growing interest in physical fitness, the beach was seen as a place for creating ‘a fine healthy race of men.’ Understandings of the beach as an Australian way of life emerged during this period and increasingly the Australian type was associated with bronzed athletic bodies on the beach.

On the beach looks at artists’ responses to the stereotype of the interwar period and juxtaposes modernist works with contemporary artists’ responses to include a more culturally diverse mix of people. Other artists in the exhibition challenge understandings of the beach as a benign space and consider the history of violence that is latent.”

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Photographer Joyce Evans looking at two colour photographs by Rennie Ellis in the exhibition.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall left hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall right hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis and, at right, Fiona Foley’s Nulla 4 eva IV (2009)

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Union Jack, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Union Jack, Lorne
c. 1968
Silver gelatin selenium toned fibre-based print
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Four Sunbathers, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Four Sunbathers, Lorne
c. 1968
Type C photograph (ed. AP)
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bondi, New South Wales' 1997

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Bondi, New South Wales
1997

 

“On the beach we chuck away our clothes, our status and our inhibitions and engage in rituals of sun worship and baptism. It’s a retreat to our primal needs.” – Rennie Ellis

 

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

 

Installation views of Vernon Ah Kee’s cantchant 2007-09

 

Vernon Ah Kee (b. 1967)
cantchant
2007-09
Synthetic polymer paint and resin over digital print on roamer, vinyl
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

Vernon Ah Kee’s response to the events at Cronulla (the Cronulla Riot) us a powerful retort to the racists and their mantra ‘we grew here, you flew here’ chanted on the beach during the riots. Ah Kee takes issue pointing out the hypocrisy in their statement.

We grew here, you flew here is an insincere statement and they were chanting it over and over again. It’s a way to exercise racism. I’m like ‘WE’ grew here, say what you want, but we’re the fellas that grew here.

The surfboards are printed with Yidinji shield designs and the portraits are members of the artists family. The work was exhibited in the Australian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Charles Blackman’s Sunbather (c. 1954, below) and Arthur Boyd’s Kite flyers [South Melbourne] (1943, below).

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Sunbather' c. 1954

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928)
Sunbather
c. 1954
Oil on board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

 

This is one of a number of paintings and drawings made in response to Blackman’s observations of life on Melbourne’s beaches. Blackman moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1945 to be part of Melbourne’s burgeoning art scene, making friends with John Perceval, Joy Hester and John and Sunday Reed amongst others.

During this period Blackman regularly took the tram to St Kilda beach to swim and paint. Although he enjoyed spending time on the beach, there is a sinister overtone to this painting of a prostrate figure lying on the sand. A bleak, grey palette articulates the pallid lifeless flesh amplifying a sense of death. The hollow slits that substitute for eyes further accentuate the corpse-like appearance. It is a stark contrast to many paintings of the era that emphasise physical vitality and wellbeing. Rather the sense of isolation and heavy treatment of shadows and water creates a painting that is psychologically disturbing. This painting can be seen as a response to his wife, Barbara’s developing blindness. It has been noted that as the ‘darkness grew in her life, his pictures got darker.’1 Blackman stated many years later ‘I was trying to paint pictures which were unseeable.’2

  1. Barry Humphries quoted in Peter Wilmoth ‘An artist in wonderland’ The Age, 21 May 2006.
  2. Charles Blackman interviewed by James Gleeson, 28 April 1979.

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) 'Kite flyers [South Melbourne]' 1943

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Kite flyers [South Melbourne]
1943
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard
46.3 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
The Arthur Boyd Gift, 1975

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, in the centre, Brett Whiteley’s Balmoral (1975-78, below). To the left of this painting is Nancy Kilgour’s Figures on Manly Beach (1930, below) and to the right, at top, Norma Bull’s Bathing Beach (c. 1950-60s, below) with at bottom, George W. Lambert’s Anzacs bathing in the sea (1915, below).

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) 'Balmoral' 1975-78 (detail)

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)
Balmoral (detail)
1975-78
Oil and collage on canvas
180 x 204 cm
Collection of the Hunter-Dyer family

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954) 'Figures on Manly Beach' c. 1930

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954)
Figures on Manly Beach
c. 1930
Oil on canvas
76 x 117 cm
Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
Purchase with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts, 1986

 

 

Nancy Kilgour’s artificial arrangement of figures is believed to have been painted in the 1930s before Charles Meere painted his highly contrived composition Australian Beach Pattern, 1940. The staged poses create a tableau of Australians enjoying the freedoms of life on the beach. What is interesting about Kilgour’s painting is that a number of people are depicted fully clothed. so the emphasis is not so much on toned physiques but rather the pleasures of relaxing on the beach. The painting is also unusual because, whereas most beach scenes are cast in brilliant sunshine, the figures in the foreground in this painting are rendered in shadow suggesting the presence of the towering Norfolk Island Pine trees which form a crescent along the Manly foreshore.

 

Norma Bull. 'Bathing Beach' c. 1950-60s

 

Norma Bull (1906-1980)
Bathing Beach
c. 1950s-60s
Oil on aluminium
30.5 x 40 cm
Collection of the Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Norma Bull began her career at the National Gallery School in 1929, Receiving acclaim for her portraits she won the Sir John Longstaff Scholarship in 1937 and travelled to London where she worked as a war artist during the Second World War. After nine years in Europe, Bull returned to Australia and spent the next year following Wirth’s Circus, painting acrobats, clowns and scenes from circus life. She settled in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills and spent her summer holidays at Anglesea which provided the opportunity to paint seascapes and beach scenes.

 

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915 (detail)

 

George W. Lambert (1867-1930)
Anzacs bathing in the sea (full and detail)
1915
Oil on canvas
25 x 34 cm
Mildura Arts Centre
Senator R.D. Elliott Bequest, presented to the City of Mildura by Mrs Hilda Elliott, 1956

 

 

George Lambert, Australia’s official war artist, travelled to Gallipoli where he created detailed studies of large battle scenes. He also painted a number of smaller, more intimate works which were execute rapidly on the spot such as this scene of men bathing in the sea. Lambert’s focus is the musculature of their bodies. They are depicted as exemplars of heroic Australian masculinity. Historian C.E.W. Bean reflected in the 1920s that it was through the events on Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915 ‘that the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.’1 In this respect the painting can be seen to have baptismal overtures.

  1. C.E.W. Bean, Official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Volume 2, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1934, p. 346.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, second left, Anne Zahalka’s The girls #2, Cronulla Beach (2007, below). At left on the far wall John Anderson’s Abundance (2015, below) followed by John Hopkins The crowd (1970, below)

 

Anne-Zahalka-The-girls-#2-WEB

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The girls #2, Cronulla Beach
2007
From the series Scenes from the Shire 2007
Type C photograph
73.3 x 89.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 2012

 

John Anderson (b. 1947) 'Abundance' (detail) 2015

 

John Anderson (b. 1947)
Abundance (detail)
2015
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

John Hopkins. 'The crowd' 1970

 

John Hopkins (b. 1943)
The crowd
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
172.7 x 245.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1974

 

Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (b. 1960)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2012-13
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

The ghillie suit is a form of camouflage originally used by hunters and the military. recently popularised in the video game, Call of duty, the ghillie suit is worn a Pxpapetrou’s son, Solomon, who poses on the beach at Queenscliff. Appearing neither man nor nature, his indistinct form speaks of transformation and becoming – of prison and absence. By depicting the figure as some sort of monster emerging from the depths of the ocean, pxpapetrou creates an image that draws upon Jungian understanding of the sea as a symbol of the collective unconscious – both a source of life and return.

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

02
Jan
16

Exhibitions: ‘Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008’ and ‘Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection’ at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2015 – 13th March 2016

Curator of Coney Island exhibition: Dr Robin Jaffee Frank

 

 

The first posting of 2016, and it is a doozy – a multimedia extravaganza of sight and sound showcasing exhibitions that focus on that eclectic playground, Coney Island.

Featuring images supplied by the gallery – plus videos, other art work featured in the exhibitions and texts that I sourced myself – this posting documents “the luridness of the sideshow acts, the drunk sailors, the amorous couples and the scantily dressed bathers who were so much a part of the allure and menace of Coney Island.” I spent many hours scouring the internet, undertaking research and cleaning poor quality images to bring this selection to you.

The exhibition is divided into five sections, and I have attempted to keep the posting in this chronological order.

  • Down at Coney Isle, 1861-94
  • The World’s Greatest Playground, 1895-1929
  • The Nickel Empire, 1930-39
  • A Coney Island of the Mind, 1940-61
  • Requiem for a Dream, 1962-2008

.
There are some interesting art works in both exhibitions. The correspondence between elephant/handler and mural is delightful in Edgar S. Thomson’s Coney Island (1897, below), while Joseph Stella’s Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14, below) is a revelation to me, considering the date of production and the portrayal of contemporary life which is akin to our own. Walker Evans’ Couple at Coney Island, New York (1928, below) seems staged and confused in its pictorial construction, not one of his better photographs, while Edward J. Kelty’s photographs of sideshow revues including a “coloured revue” are interesting for their social context and formalism.

Paul Cadmus’ satirical view of American vacationers Coney Island (1934, below) is a riot of colour, movement and social commentary, including references to homosexuality and Hitler, while his friend Reginald Marsh’s effusive Coney Island paintings play with “reimagined bathers and sideshow audiences in poses derived from Michelangelo and Rubens” packed into compressed, collage like spaces. Particular favourites are photographs by Garry Winograd, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. Surprise of the posting are the black and white photographs of Morris Engel.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Brooklyn Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The mixed-media exhibit captures Coney Island’s campy, trippy aesthetic with a hodgepodge of photographs by the likes of Walker Evans, Weegee, Bruce Davidson, and Diane Arbus (since Coney Island was basically tailor-made for a Diane Arbus photo shoot). Also on view are pastoral seascapes from the 1800s; sideshow posters galore; a turn-of-the-century gambling wheel and carousel animals presented like sculpture; film stills from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream; and a modernist abstract composition by Frank Stella. With red and yellow stripes around a blue square, Stella distills the sand and sea and sun into a primary-colored flag for Brooklyn’s most famous destination.

In these pictures, Coney Island serves as a microcosm of American mass culture as a whole, and the chronology of 140 art objects here chart major societal shifts, from the dawn of the Great Depression to desegregation. “The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” Dr Robin Jaffee Frank, curator of the exhibit, which Wadsworth Athenaeum helped organize, said in a statement. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”

Carey Dunne. “Dreamland as Muse: A Look Back at 150 Years of Coney Island Art, Photography, and Film,” on the Brooklyn Magazine website 17/08/2015 [Online] Cited 02/01/2016

 

 

Samuel S. Carr (American, 1837–1908). 'Beach Scene' c. 1879

 

Samuel S. Carr (American, 1837-1908)
Beach Scene
c. 1879
Oil on canvas
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Bequest of Annie Swan Coburn (Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn)

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'The great Forepaugh & Sells Brothers shows combined' c. 1899

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
The great Forepaugh & Sells Brothers shows combined. Terrific flights over ponderous elephants by a company of twenty five splendid artists in a great contest for valuable prizes, introducing high, long distance, layout, twisting, single and double somersault leapers, enlivened by mirth provoking comedy surprises.
Promotional poster for Forepaugh & Sells Brothers circus
c. 1899
Color lithograph poster

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth /The Great Coney Island Water Carnival /Remarkable Head-Foremost Dives from Enormous Heights into Shallow Depths of Water' 1898

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth /The Great Coney Island Water Carnival /Remarkable Head-Foremost Dives from Enormous Heights into Shallow Depths of Water
1898
Color lithograph poster
30 1/6 x 38 3/4 in. (76.6 x 98.4 cm)
Cincinnati Art Museum; Gift of the Strobridge Lithographing Company

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'Beach and boardwalk scenes, Coney Island' c. 1898

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
Beach and boardwalk scenes, Coney Island
c. 1898
Color lithograph foldout poster
approx. 21 feet long

 

George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). 'Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island' c. 1880–85

 

George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887)
Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island
c. 1880-85, printed 1940s
Gelatin silver photograph
7 5/8 x 12 in. (19.4 x 30.5 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s–1900s). 'Coney Island' 1897

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s-1900s)
Coney Island
1897
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s–1900s). 'Coney Island' 1897 (detail)

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s-1900s)
Coney Island (detail)
1897
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916). 'Landscape, near Coney Island' c. 1886

 

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916)
Landscape, near Coney Island
c. 1886
Oil on panel
8 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (20.6 x 32 cm)
The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York; Gift of Mary H. Beeman to the Pruyn Family Collection

 

Joseph Stella. 'Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras' 1913-14

 

Joseph Stella
Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras
1913-14
Oil on canvas
77 by 84¾ inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

 

 

“In 1913, to celebrate Mardi Gras, Joseph Stella took a bus ride to Coney Island that changed his life. The Italian immigrant painter remembered that up until this point he had been “struggling … working along the lines of the old masters, seeking to portray a civilization long since dead.” He continued:

“Arriving at the Island I was instantly struck by the dazzling array of lights. It seemed as if they were in conflict. I was struck with the thought that here was what I had been unconsciously seeking for so many years… On the spot was born the idea for my first truly great picture.” (Joseph Stella, “I Knew Him When (1924),” in Barbara Haskell, ed., Joseph Stella, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 1994, p. 206)

.
The result of Stella’s revelation, the enormous oil painting Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14), was the inspiration for the traveling exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

If the broken planes and neon coloring of Stella’s painting suggest the exhilaration of contemporary life, they also express dislocation and alienation. Stella himself spoke of the “dangerous pleasures” of Coney Island, implying that its unleashing of desires could provoke anxiety (Joseph Stella, “Autobiographical Notes (1946),” in Barbara Haskell, ed., Joseph Stella, p. 213). And yet for all of the dynamism of Stella’s aesthetic, his painting’s sweeping arabesques are checked by the rectangle of the picture plane, and its decorative unity distances the disruptive power of its discordant subjects. The contained anarchy of Stella’s painting is the perfect metaphor for Coney Island’s manipulation and control of the unruly masses, who, at the end of the day, go back to their homes and their ordered existence.

Looking closely at Battle of Lights we might be able to make out fragments of actual rides and even shapes that suggest people, but Stella’s abstraction obscures the luridness of the sideshow acts, the drunk sailors, the amorous couples and the scantily dressed bathers who were so much a part of the allure and menace of Coney Island.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). 'Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island' 1912

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872-1960)
Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island
1912
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). 'Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island' 1912 (detail)

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872-1960)
Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island (detail)
1912
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle (director)
Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton (actors)
Coney Island
1917
25 mins – short, comedy

 

The 5th film starring the duo of Buster Keaton & Fatty Arbuckle, who also directed. Taking place at the Coney Island amusement park of New York City, it’s notable as the only film where Buster Keaton is seen laughing as this is before he developed his “Great Stoneface” persona.

 

Gambling Wheel, 1900–20

 

Gambling Wheel
1900-20
Wood, glass, metal
65 x 14 in. (165.1 x 35.6 cm)
Collection of The New-York Historical Society; Purchase

 

Charles Carmel. 'Carousel Horse with Raised Head, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York' c. 1914

 

Charles Carmel
Carousel Horse with Raised Head, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
c. 1914
Paint on wood, jewels, glass eyes, horsehair tail
62 x 58 x 14 in. (157.5 x 147.3 x 36.6 cm)
Collection of American Folk Art Museum, New York; Gift of Laura Harding

 

 

Born in Russia in 1865, Charles Carmel and his young bride immigrated to the U.S. in 1883 and lived in Brooklyn for most of their lives. Charles was a perfectionist in his work and a disciplinarian with his family. Their home was located close to Prospect Park and its stable of riding horses, which served as a source of inspiration for Charles’ carousel horse carving work. It is generally accepted that Charles Carmel carved carousel horses from 1905 to 1920, and sold his work to all of the major carousel manufacturers of the time including Dolle, Borelli, Murphy, and Mangels.

In 1911 Charles invested most of his money in a newly constructed carousel that he intended to operate on Coney Island. The day before the park was to open, a fire totally destroyed the amusement park along with the uninsured carousel. This was a devastating financial blow to the Carmel family. Later his health deteriorated due to diabetes and arthritis until Charles closed his shop and carved a few hours a day at home, filling orders. Charles died in 1933 of cancer, but his legacy lives on with the exquisite carousel animals that he produced throughout his life.

Text from the Gesa Carousel of Dreams website

 

Anonymous artist. 'Looping the Loop, Coney Island' 1901-10

 

Anonymous artist
Looping the Loop, Coney Island
1901-10
Private Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Couple at Coney Island, New York' 1928

 

Walker Evans
Couple at Coney Island, New York
1928
Gelatin silver print
8 x 5 13/16 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower' 1928

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967)
X-ray of Ajax, “The Sword Swallower”
1928
20 x 20 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967) 'Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island' 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island
1929
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930 (detail)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island (detail)
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Milton Avery (American, 1885–1965). 'The Steeplechase, Coney Island' 1929

 

Milton Avery (American, 1885-1965)
The Steeplechase, Coney Island
1929
Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 in. (81.3 x 101.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Sally M. Avery, 1984
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, courtesy of Art Resource, New York
© 2013 Milton Avery Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Paul Cadmus. 'Coney Island' 1934

 

Paul Cadmus
Coney Island
1934
Oil on canvas
32 7/16 x 36 5/16 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Gift of Peter Paanakker

 

 

Paul Cadmus’s “Coney Island” takes a satirical view of American vacationers. The fleshy members of the human pyramid seem carefree and frivolous in light of the ominous rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany (Hitler’s face can be seen printed on the magazine resting on the sleeping man’s chest at the bottom of the painting).

 

“… Paul Cadmus, who shared Marsh’s use of old-master forms and techniques but not his heterosexuality, filled his beach painting with purposely ugly women and mostly beautiful men. The main action in Cadmus’s Coney Island (1934) is the human pyramid of men and women at its center. And yet the Adonis who lies on his stomach in the foreground has no interest in this heterosexual game. Instead, he looks off at another muscular youth farther down the beach. For Marsh, Cadmus and their fellow Coney Island artists, the chance to gaze unabashedly at the body of a stranger was one of the great pleasures of the milieu.

… traditional figuration, like that of Cadmus and Marsh, is so dominant that the exhibition arguably offers an alternate history of American art – one in which the modernist painting of Milton Avery or Frank Stella seems like a sideshow. Breaking out of the canon of modernism, “Coney Island” puts new focus on neglected realist painters like Harry Roseland, Robert Riggs, George Tooker and a particular favorite of mine, Henry Koerner.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

“Coney Island was the first painting Cadmus made after he ceased working for the federally sponsored Public Works of Art Project. It is typical of his paintings of the period in both theme and form. Cadmus viewed the prosaic activity of bathing on a beach in devastatingly satirical terms. Poking fun at the bathers’ carefree pleasures, Cadmus accumulated an odd assortment of bulging, burnt bodies. The bathers are oblivious to their ridiculous appearance and uncouth behaviour. Swarming the beach, their bodies are strangely intertwined, their faces smiling inanely. Everything is exaggerated, the color verging on the garish to intensify their grossness. In the 1930s Cadmus used oil paint almost as if it were a graphic medium, consequently Coney Island looks more like a tinted drawing than a painting. His small, exacting brushstrokes impart a flickering quality to the surface, which intensifies the impression that the figures are in constant motion. Cadmus actually began to sketch the scene on Martha’s Vineyard, before he visited Coney Island. He was attracted to the Brooklyn beach because it offered him the opportunity to delineate the human figure with as little clothing as possible. Moreover, he considered the beach scene to be a classical subject. His treatment, however, is rather baroque.

As was his friend Reginald Marsh, Cadmus was attracted to the elaborate compositions of old master paintings. Coney Island, with its seminude figures arranged in complex groupings, their bodies twisted and in constant motion, was for Cadmus the twentieth-century version of a baroque allegorical composition. Cadmus claimed that his intent was not to be sensational, but when the painting was exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s second biennial, it suffered the same hostile reception as did his earlier The Fleet’s In!. The Coney Island Showmen’s League, a local trade group, denounced the painting as offensive and inaccurate and threatened a libel suit if the painting was not removed from the exhibition. According to the artist’s incomplete records, it seems that the painting was rejected from several annual exhibitions to which it was submitted soon after it was shown at the Whitney biennial, probably because of the controversy it stirred. In 1935 Cadmus produced an etching from a photograph of the painting in the hope that it would reach a larger public. In the etching the image is reversed but otherwise differs only in a few minor details.”

Text from the LACMA website

 

Reginald Marsh. 'Pip and Flip' 1932

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
Pip and Flip
1932
Tempera on paper mounted on canvas
48 1/4 x 48 1/4 in.
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
Daniel J. Terra Collection

 

 

“Such bodies were the great subjects of Reginald Marsh. Instead of Stella’s spirals of lights abstracted and seen from a distance, Marsh’s George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park (1936) gives us a close-up view of the Human Roulette Wheel where young women are spun into all kinds of unladylike postures. For the Yale-educated Marsh, Coney Island was a chance to go “slumming,” to mingle with the lower classes on the beach and in the amusement parks. Hostile to modernism and abstract art, he reimagined bathers and sideshow audiences in poses derived from Michelangelo and Rubens. And yet, like Stella, Marsh overpacked his Coney Island paintings so that every inch is activated and in motion like a carnival ride. The highly compressed space of a Marsh painting like Pip and Flip (1932, above)with its collagelike play of rectangular billboards advertising human-oddity sideshows, would be unthinkable without the precedent of Cubism that he supposedly detested.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Human Roulette Wheel at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, early 1900s

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898–1954). 'Wooden Horses' 1936

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
Wooden Horses
1936
Tempera on board, 24 x 40 in. (61 x 101.6 cm)
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; The Dorothy Clark Archibald and Thomas L. Archibald Fund, The Krieble Family Fund for American Art, The American Paintings Purchase Fund, and The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund
Photo: © 2013 Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Reginald Marsh. 'George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park' 1936

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
George Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park
1936
Oil and egg tempera on linen mounted on fiberboard
30 1/8 x 40 1/8 in. (76.5 x 101.8 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation

 

Steeplechase Mechanical Horse Ride at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, early 1900s

 

 

 

“The spirit of Coney Island comes alive with Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 on view at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition traces the evolution of the Coney Island phenomenon from tourist destination during the Civil War to the World’s Greatest Playground to a site of nostalgia. Covering a period of 150 years, the exhibition features 140 objects, including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera, and film clips. Also on view is Forever Coney, 42 photographs from the Brooklyn Museum collection.

An extraordinary array of artists have viewed Coney Island as a microcosm of the American experience and used their works to investigate the area as both a place and an idea. Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland offers up early depictions of “the people’s beach” by Impressionists William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman; modernist depictions of the amusement park by Joseph Stella; Depression-era scenes of cheap thrills by Reginald Marsh; photographs by Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Weegee, and Bruce Davidson; and contemporary works by Daze and Swoon.

“The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” said Dr Robin Jaffee Frank, exhibition curator. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”

Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 is organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. The Brooklyn presentation is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator, Arts of the Americas and Europe, Brooklyn Museum. A fully illustrated 304-page catalogue, co-published by Yale University Press and the Wadsworth Athenaeum, incorporates the first continuous visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island by Dr Frank as well as essays by distinguished cultural historians.”

Forever Coney

As one of America’s first seaside resorts, Coney Island has attracted adventurous visitors and undergone multiple transformations, inspiring photographers since the mid-nineteenth century. Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection features forty-two images that celebrate the people and places that make up Coney Island. The earliest works, taken by photographers such as George Bradford Brainerd and Irving Underhill, document the resort from the post-Civil War period through the turn of the twentieth century. Later artists such as Harry Lapow and Stephen Salmieri have photographed the many personalities that have passed through the site.

The photographers included in this exhibition are George Bradford Brainerd, Lynn Hyman Butler, Anita Chernewski, Victor Friedman, Kim Iacono, Sidney Kerner, Harry Lapow, Nathan Lerner, Jack Lessinger, H.S. Lewis, John L. Murphy, Ben Ross, Stephen Salmieri, Edgar S. Thomson, Arthur Tress, Irving Underhill, Breading G. Way, Eugene Wemlinger, and Harvey R. Zipkin. Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum. It is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008.

Text from the Brooklyn Museum website

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918–2005). 'Coney Island Embrace, New York City' 1938

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Coney Island Embrace, New York City
1938
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 11 1/2 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York
© Morris Engel

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005) 'Mother with Children' 1938

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Mother with Children
1938
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York

 

Nieman Studios, Inc., Chicago. 'Shackles the Great' 1940

 

Nieman Studios, Inc., Chicago
Shackles the Great
1940
Sideshow banner
118 x 108 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

'Quito, Human Octopus' 1940

 

Quito, Human Octopus
1940
Sideshow banner
140 x 117 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Anon. 'Steeplechase Funny Face' nd

 

Steeplechase Funny Face
Nd
Painted metal
23 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Henry Koerner (America, born Austria, 1915–1991). 'The Barker’s Booth' 1948–49

 

Henry Koerner (America, born Austria, 1915-1991)
The Barker’s Booth
1948-49
Oil on Masonite
26 x 40 ½ in. (66 x 102.9 cm)
Collection of Alice A. Grossman

 

George Tooker. 'Coney Island' 1948

 

George Tooker
Coney Island
1948
Egg tempera on gesso panel
19 1/4 x 26 1/4 inches
Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis

 

George Tooker’s thought-provoking “Coney Island” places traditional beach goers in a Pietà tableau.

 

Arthur Fellig (Weegee) 'Coney Island' 1940

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
Coney Island Beach
1940
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 x 10 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

 

Looking at Weegee’s photograph, it is easy to be carried away with longing for what seems like a simpler and happier time. Undoubtedly, the picture’s sense of naïve jubilation was part of its appeal for Red Grooms, who essentially copied the image in paint for Weegee 1940 (1998-99). And yet, like much at Coney Island, Weegee’s photograph is an illusion. Taken when Europe was already at war and the Depression had not yet ended, its merriment was only a momentary respite.

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Unknown artist. 'Modern Venus of 1947' Coney Island, 1947

 

Unknown artist
Modern Venus of 1947
Coney Island, 1947
Gelatin silver photograph
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (27.3 x 35.2 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum

 

Unknown artist. 'Modern Venus of 1947, Coney Island, 1947' (detail)

 

Unknown artist
Modern Venus of 1947 (detail)
Coney Island, 1947
Gelatin silver photograph
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (27.3 x 35.2 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum

 

Homer Page (American, 1918–1985). 'Coney Island' July 30, 1949

 

Homer Page (American, 1918-1985)
Coney Island
July 30, 1949
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Gift of the Hall Family Foundation
© Homer Page
Photo: John Lamberton

 

Morris Engel. 'Little Fugitive', production still, 1953

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Under the Boardwalk, Coney Island [Production still from Little Fugitive]
1953
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York

 

 

Raymond Abrashkin (as “Ray Ashley”), Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin (directors)
Little Fugitive
1953

 

Joey, a young boy, runs away to Coney Island after he is tricked into believing he has killed his older brother. Joey collects glass bottles and turns them into money, which he uses to ride the rides.

Little Fugitive (1953), one of the most beautiful films featured in the exhibition, conveys the feeling of moving through the enormous crowds in Weegee’s photographThe creation of two master still photographers, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, and writer Ray Ashley, the film tells the story of Joey, a seven-year-old boy who runs away to Coney Island. But if Joey initially exalts in the freedom of being lost in the crowd, he feels abandoned when the amusement park closes down. Robert Frank’s photograph from the same year of a man asleep on a deserted beach with the Parachute Tower at his back [see below] echoes the film’s invocation of the resort’s fleeting joys. When Coney Island empties out it reveals the superficiality and pathos of the fantasies it evokes. In 1894, even before the big amusement parks were built, Stephen Crane mused about how in winter the “mammoth” hotels became “gaunt and hollow, impassively and stolidly suffering from an enormous hunger for the public.” (Stephen Crane, “Coney Island’s Failing Days,” in A Coney Island Reader, p. 69).”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

 

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

 

Installation of views of the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

Cyclops Head from Spook-A-Rama
c. 1955
Mixed media
60 x 47 x 42 inches
The Vourderis Family. Deno’s Wonder Wheel

 

Garry Winogrand. 'Coney Island, New York City, N.Y.,' 1952

 

Garry Winogrand
Coney Island, New York City, N.Y.,
1952
Silver bromide
8 1/2 x 13 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Gift of Barbara and James L. Melcher

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Two Youths, Coney Island'From the series 'Brooklyn Gang, 1958' print c. 1965

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled (Cathy and Cigarette Machine), from the series Brooklyn Gang 1959, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 5/8; sheet: 11 x 14 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. The Heinz Family Fund

 

Diane Arbus. ‘The House of Horrors’ 1961

 

Diane Arbus
The House of Horrors
1961
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 x 14 inches
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

“As its carnival rides and sideshows became increasingly dated in the 1960s, Coney Island was unable to maintain even the phony thrills that Miller derided in the 1930s. In Diane Arbus’s The House of Horrors (1961)the fake skeleton and the cartoon ape mask aren’t as scary as the ride’s sorry state and the impression that something terrible has driven all the people away. (The 1970 low-budget slasher film Carnival of Blood, not included in the exhibition, brilliantly uses this seediness to create a sense of uncanny doom.) In Arnold Mesches’s painting Anomie 1991: Winged Victory (1991), the creaky rides mingle with images of war, turning dreamland into an apocalyptic nightmare.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Diane Arbus. 'Couple Arguing, Coney Island, N.Y.,' 1960

 

Diane Arbus
Couple Arguing, Coney Island, N.Y.,
1960
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 6 5/8 inches [image]; 14 x 11 inches [sheet]
Collection Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum

 

Robert Frank. ‘Coney Island' 4th of July, 1958

 

Robert Frank
Coney Island
July 4, 1958
15 5/8 x 11 9/16 inches
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Robert Frank Collection. Gift of the Richard Florsheim Art Fund and an Anonymous Donor

 

Frank Stella (American, born 1936). 'Coney Island' 1958

 

Frank Stella (American, born 1936)
Coney Island
1958
Oil on canvas
85 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Gift of Larom B. Munson, B.A. 1951

 

Harry Lapow (American, 1909–1982). 'Untitled (Buried Alive)' c. 1960s or 1970s

 

Harry Lapow (American, 1909-1982)
Untitled (Buried Alive)
c. 1960s or 1970s
Gelatin silver photograph
12 1/8 x 9 1/16 in. (30.8 x 23 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the artist
© Estate of Harry Lapow
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Harry Lapow began frequenting Coney Island to capture quirks of the beach and boardwalk after receiving a Ciroflex camera on his forty-third birthday. He was intrigued by the camera’s ability to isolate details and fleeting moments of everyday life. Here, a toddler’s crossed legs appear above the head of a buried woman whose eyes are covered by a floral towel. In cropping this beach sighting, Lapow crafts a surprising juxtaposition, forming an unlikely dynamic between the lively child and the masked adult.

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled' July 4, 1962

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled
July 4, 1962
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Stephen Salmieri (American, born 1945). 'Coney Island' 1971

 

Stephen Salmieri (American, born 1945)
Coney Island
1971
Gelatin silver photograph
8 x 10 1/8 in. (20.3 x 25.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Edward Klein
© Stephen Salmieri
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

Harvey Stein (American, born 1941). 'The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile' 1982

 

Harvey Stein (American, born 1941)
The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile
1982
Digital, inkjet archival print
13 x 19 in. (33 x 48.3 cm)
Collection of the artist
© Harvey Stein, 2011

 

Red Grooms (American, born 1937). 'Weegee 1940' 1998-99

 

Red Grooms (American, born 1937)
Weegee 1940
1998-99
Acrylic on paper
56 1/8 x 62 in. (142.6 x 157.5 cm)
Private Collection
Photo: Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York
© 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Arnold Mesches (American, born 1923). 'Anomie 1991: Winged Victory' 1991

 

Arnold Mesches (American, born 1923)
Anomie 1991: Winged Victory
1991
Acrylic on canvas
92 x 135 in. (233.7 x 342.9 cm)
The San Diego Museum of Art; Museum purchase with partial funding from the Richard Florsheim Art Fund
© 2013 Arnold Mesches

 

Daze (American, born 1962). 'Coney Island Pier' 1995

 

Daze (American, born 1962)
Coney Island Pier
1995
Oil on canvas
60 x 80 in. (152.4 x 203.2 cm)
Collection of the artist

 

Daze (American, born 1962). 'Kiddlyand Spirits' 1995

 

Daze (American, born 1962)
Kiddyland Spirits
1995
Oil on canvas
42 x 71 inches
Collection of the artist

 

'Requiem for a Dream', production still, directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

 

Requiem for a Dream, production still, directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

 

Marie Roberts (American, born 1954). 'A Congress of Curious Peoples' 2005

 

Marie Roberts (American, born 1954)
A Congress of Curious Peoples
2005
Acrylic on unstretched canvas
84 x 120 in. (213.4 x 304.8 cm)
Collection of Liz and Marc Hartzman

 

Swoon. 'Coney, Early Evening' 2005

 

Swoon
Coney, Early Evening
2005
Linoleum print on Mylar
Variable; overall: 213 x 39 x 113 inches
Brooklyn Museum. Healy Purchase Fund B, Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, and Designated Purchase Fund

 

Swoon’s “Coney, Early Evening” suspends youthful figures intertwined throughout the iconic tracks of a Coney Island roller coaster.

 

Frederick Brosen (American, born 1954). 'Fortune Teller, Jones Walk, Coney Island' 2008

 

Frederick Brosen (American, born 1954)
Fortune Teller, Jones Walk, Coney Island
2008
Watercolor over graphite on paper
17 7/8 x 11 ¼ in. (45.4 x 28.6 cm)
Courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York
© 2013 Frederick Brosen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Joshua Nefsky, courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York

 

 

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, NY 11238-6052
T: (718) 638-5000

Opening hours:
Wednesday and Friday, 11 am – 6 pm
Thursday11 am – 10 pm
Saturday and Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm
first Saturday of each month, 11 am – 11 pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

Brooklyn Museum website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

20
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Art AIDS America’ at Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma

Exhibition dates: 3rd October 2015 – 10th January 2016

 

 

This is the biggest exhibition on art relating to HIV/AIDS since the seminal exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra in 1995, which I was a part of.

I was lucky to survive the initial wave of HIV/AIDS infections. The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981… and I had my first HIV test in London in 1983. In those days, as the wall text from the exhibition spells out below, you had to wait 16 days to get the result of a blood test. I vividly remember sitting outside a doctor’s office knowing that when I went in, if he said yes you have it, it was a death sentence. In those early days, there was no treatment. You were going to die. I only survived by luck. Many of my friends and lovers didn’t.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says exhibition co-curator Rock Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

This deep understanding can be supplemented by this posting. I spent many hours securing more images than were sent to me in the press pack, because I think it is really important to have as great a cross-section as possible of work online from this exhibition, as a record of this time and space in the ongoing HIV/AIDS story. At present, there is no website for the 1995 exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS but I am hoping to correct this in the near future, with installation images, art work, interviews and videos.

In terms of the art, I find the earlier narratives are much more powerful and focused than the contemporary work. One of the most moving of these, and one that I have never seen before, is Keith Haring’s Altar Piece (1990, cast 1996, below). Can you imagine being an artist, being Haring, working on the wax mould in hospital being treated for AIDS-related illness, thinking that this could possibly be the last art work that you would ever complete. That you would never see it produced. And then to make something that is so compassionate, so beautiful that it is almost beyond belief… my heart is full of admiration and, like the crowd in the triptych, I am washed with tears.

By comparison, some of the contemporary works seem to have become mere graphic symbolism (leaves, milk and flowers) rather than engaging activism. For example, Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers (2010, below) – while referencing his Mexican heritage through skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead – is not about loss with presence but loss without presence: a febrile graphic activity that is pure decoration. Other works such as Derek Jackson’s Perfect Kiss (2007, below) or LADZ’s Eden #31 (2012, below) enact only the most tenuous link to HIV/AIDS and only when it is spelled out in text. Again, while not denying the pain of the death of her mother, her persecution when growing up or the problems with living with HIV, Kia Labeija’s 24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room) (2014, below) propositions us with a women photographed in deadpan photography style as glamorous mother with vivid pink lipstick or a Beyonce music star in sequin dress and 6 inch heels. Only in the last photograph is there any hint of vulnerability and, funnily enough, it is the only photograph that I care about and engage with.

In all of these works the key word is enact, for these works are performances of gender and sexuality conceptualised for the viewer, where living with HIV/AIDS is shown to us at a distance. Instead of ACTing up, unleashing the power of the oppressed, artists are now acting out in this (supposed) post-death HIV/AIDS climate. Look at me, I can be whoever I want to be (and still have HIV). Nothing wrong with that I hear you say, and you would be completely right… if only the art commenting on this post-death resurrection of the author, was memorable.

While 1,218,400 persons aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection in the USA and an estimated 47, 352 people were diagnosed with the disease in 2013, people are still dying by the thousands in America (an estimated 13,712 people died in 2012 of an AIDS related disease – source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website). This is not pretty pink lipstick and sequin dresses, this is 13 thousand people a year still DYING from this disease.

Just think about that for a while.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Tacoma Art Museum, Mark I. Chester and Steven Miller for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Did You Know?

 

Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum from Tacoma Art Museum on Vimeo.

 

 

Art AIDS America aims to abolish the silence about the pervasive presence of HIV/AIDS in American art and open meaningful and respectful dialogues about our experiences with the ongoing epidemic. For too long, we have considered art about AIDS as a tragic, closed chapter in the history of American art. This exhibition demonstrates the deep and continued impact of the AIDS crisis on American art from the early 1980s and continuing to today.

For more than thirty years, artists have actively responded with exquisite sensitivity to HIV/AIDS. They have adopted a broad spectrum of styles and messages from politically activist to quietly mournful art that nonetheless thrums with political content. Through poignant portraits, some artists brought much needed attention to personal suffering and loss from the AIDS crisis. Others employed abstraction and coded imagery to reveal the social and political factors that exacerbated the spread of HIV/AIDS. Artists also widely appropriated various art historical traditions to speak about the devastating impact of the epidemic. Art AIDS America offers an overview of how these various approaches redirected the course of American art from postmodern “art for art’s sake” formulas to art practice that highlights the personal experience and expertise of the artist.

Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful. HIV and AIDS are not just past-tense problems. As we persist in the struggle with HIV/AIDS, these artworks remind us of humanity’s resilience, responsibility, and history. The legacy of the AIDS crisis and our new relationships with the virus continue to inform contemporary art and American culture.

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987–1995), Let the Record Show… 1987/recreated 2015.

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show…
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

 

In 1987, the New Museum’s curator William Olander invited ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to create a work about AIDS. ACT UP, a diverse, nonpartisan, grassroots organization, responded with Let the Record Show… providing information about the crisis.

At the time, the only visual presence of AIDS activism was the Silence=Death stickers. Let the Record Show… recreated here in full for the first time, included an LED reader board with statistics about the unfolding medical and political crisis, the neon pink triangle with “Silence=Death,” a photomural from the Nuremberg trials, and photographs of contemporary public figures with their statements about AIDS.

Using the 1986 graphics from the Silence=Death Project, ACT UP appropriated the pink triangle from the badges assigned to gay prisoners in Nazi Germany during World War II. The artists combined this historic symbol of powerlessness along with the photomural of the Nuremberg courtroom to make an explicit comparison between the severity of the AIDS crisis and government inaction and the Holocaust. The complicated installation asked whether simple silence in a crisis is as culpable as actively encouraging one. The anonymous collective Gran Fury formed as a committee of ACT UP, as a result of Olander’s invitation. Gran Fury continued to make provocative and important works about the AIDS crisis.

For the installation of Let the Record Show… at the New Museum, quotes were cast in concrete under the photograph of the irresponsible speaker:

 

“The logical outcome of testing is a quarantine of those infected.”

Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator

“It is patriotic to have the AIDS test and be negative.”

Cory Servass, Presidential AIDS Commission

“We used to hate faggots on an emotional basis. Now we have a good reason.”

Anonymous Surgeon

“AIDS is God’s judgment of a society that does not live by His rules.”

Jerry Falwell, Televangelist

“Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm to protect common needle users, and on the buttocks to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.”

William F. Buckley, Columnist

” …”

Ronald Reagan, President of the United States

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995) 'Let the Record Show…' (detail) 1987/recreated 2015

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show… (detail)
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

Carrie Yamaoka (Born Glen Cove, New York, 1957) 'Steal This Book #2' 1991

 

Carrie Yamaoka (Born Glen Cove, New York, 1957)
Steal This Book #2
1991
Unique chemically altered gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Carrie Yamaoka takes inspiration from Abbie Hoffman’s iconic Steal This Book, a counterculture manual for social revolution. By photographing a page spread and then obliterating all of the words except “slaughter” and “history,” Yamaoka rejects any passive understanding of history. As an activist and artist, Yamaoka will use any means necessary to affect change. Steal This Book #2 may be considered as referring to Yamaoka’s experience as an AIDS activist and her desire to reshape our understanding of our relations with HIV.

 

Jerome Caja (Born Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; Died San Francisco, California, 1995) 'Bozo Fucks Death' 1988

 

Jerome Caja (Born Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; Died San Francisco, California, 1995)
Bozo Fucks Death
1988
Nail polish on plastic tray
Collection of Ed Frank and Sarah Ratchye

 

One of Jerome Caja’s alter egos was the clown Bozo. Here Caja aggressively turns the tables on death and seeks to gain some control and power over the inevitable, even if only a transgressive, psychological fantasy.

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (born 1930, died 2002) 'AIDS, you can't catch it holding hands' 1987

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (born 1930, died 2002)
AIDS, you can’t catch it holding hands
1987
Book, 52 pages 8 × 10 inches
The Lapis Press, San Francisco
© 2015 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved / ARS, NY / ADAGP, Paris

 

Working with collaborator Professor Silvio Barandun, Niki de Saint Phalle wrote and illustrated AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands for young adults. Using her characteristically colorful and joyous style, de Saint Phalle offers unusually straightforward information about the transmission of HIV from unprotected sex and unclean needles in intravenous drug use. She also uses the same frank approach to assuring her readers that casual contact from flowers, doorknobs, and toilet seats does not transmit AIDS, notions that were not widely understood in the early years of the AIDS crisis.

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse I' 1988

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990)
Apocalypse I
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

In their first collaboration, Keith Haring illustrated William S. Burroughs’ dystopic poem Apocalypse by mixing references to advertising, art history, and Catholic theology. Haring included his “devil sperm,” the black, horned symbol he created to give shape to HIV and its reign of death and terror.

Burroughs introduced the chaos unfolding:

“The final Apocalypse is when every man sees what he sees, feels what he feels, and hears what he hears. The creatures of all your dreams and nightmares are right here, right now, solid as they ever were or ever will be, electric vitality of careening subways faster faster faster stations flash by in a blur.”

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse III' 1988

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990)
Apocalypse III
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

 

Grassroots Activism

Artists provided the early warnings of the AIDS crisis with their artworks deployed at the street level. Posters, stickers, T-shirts and other projects made it impossible to ignore messages about AIDS. These activist artists were informed by earlier precedents of feminist art and artists working on issues of identity politics. Communities coalesced around the calls to action.

The most prominent group to address the AIDS crisis was the anonymous artist collective Gran Fury in New York, a committee of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The collective used techniques and ideas from advertising, marketing, and the art world to raise awareness and affect political change. Their bold graphic style and refined text continues to influence politically-themed art.

Gran Fury and other activists changed how Americans thought about AIDS. The political and social pressure instigated by their actions and artworks played important roles in changing the approval process for AIDS drugs and treatment protocols. Women’s health issues were brought to the forefront. As a result, American society positively changed their opinions about HIV/AIDS when they had correct information.

 

Memento Mori

The AIDS crisis compelled contemporary American artists to address death with urgency. Artists witnessed a plague sweep through their communities and wipe out their friends, colleagues, and lovers. They used art to express their rage and terror when AIDS had no effective treatment. Their artwork provided a vitally important way to mourn their losses and share their sorrow.

Artists looked back to European and American artistic traditions of memento mori, Latin for “Remember that you must die,” to share their experiences, feelings, and stories. They adapted symbols like skulls and flowers to depict the fragility and fleeting nature of life.

Artists in this section shifted the intent of memento mori away from concepts of death and the afterlife. They refocused on the preciousness and precariousness of life, without forgetting the political and social realities behind the massive wave of death. Nayland Blake’s clock marks the passing of so many individuals with a call to action. David Wojnarowicz rages against the senseless death of Peter Hujar. Bill Jacobson and Karen Finley give form to the fragility of memory. Latino folk traditions connect the living and the dead in the paintings of Tino Rodriguez and Thomas Woodruff.

 

Poetic Postmodernism

In the early 1980s, American art was dominated by a new, postmodern theory. It held that meaning belongs not to the artist who made the work but to their audiences who interpret the works. Called “the death of the author,” the theory was named after a 1967 essay by the French postmodernist thinker Roland Barthes.

As AIDS actually caused the death of thousands of authors and artists by the late 1980s, this metaphor became a terrifying reality. At the same time, a powerful Christian conservative movement aggressively politicized AIDS. Using homophobia and fear of the disease, these politicians passed Federal laws that made it illegal to “promote, encourage, or condone homosexual sexual activities or the intravenous use of illegal drugs” in an AIDS awareness and education bill.

The ramifications for artists and art exhibitions were equally prohibitive. Federal laws were passed that made it impossible for museums to receive government support if an exhibition included obscene content, which was understood to mean gay themes among others, including AIDS-specific art. In this climate, artists knew that overt political content would result in censorship. So they developed a new way to smuggle political meaning into art.

In his research for Art AIDS America, Jonathan David Katz named this new approach “poetic postmodernism.” Artists used the postmodern theory “death of the author” to camouflage their own personal, expressive meanings. Many of the works in this exhibition have the same title format, the word “untitled” followed by a more specific description in parentheses such as in “Untitled” (Water), Untitled (Hujar Dead), or Untitled (Corrupt HIV Activism). The first term, “untitled,” signals the prevailing postmodernist idea that all meanings come from the audience. But the phrase inside the parentheses reveals clues to the artist’s associations and intentions. Because recognition of AIDS content was a product of the viewer’s thought and not the artist’s explicit claim, such works could be shown in museums without fear of being censored under the new laws.

 

Andres Serrano (Born New York, New York, 1950) 'Milk/Blood' 1989, printed 2015

 

Andres Serrano (Born New York, New York, 1950)
Milk/Blood
1989, printed 2015
Chromogenic color print
Exhibition print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Milk/Blood recall the pure, flat color of hard edged abstract painters such as Ellsworth Kelly. But the simple saturated color fields in Serrano’s photograph bear the evocative title Milk/Blood, the two main body fluids that transmit HIV. Serrano appropriates the formal language of modernism for political purposes, a means of potentially slipping AIDS consciousness into a museum context without fear of exclusion or censure. As with HIV infection itself, the photograph underscores how our key sense, vision, is unreliable in the face of AIDS.

 

Andres Serrano (born 1950) 'Blood and Semen III' 1990

 

Andres Serrano (born 1950)
Blood and Semen III
1990
Chromogenic color print, edition 1 of 4
40 × 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Like his Milk/Blood in this exhibition, Blood and Semen III also appears to be a rigorously formal composition, this time evoking the gestural appearance of an abstract expressionist painting. Again, the title references two body fluids that transmit HIV. As examples of poetic postmodernism, Serrano activates meaning in Blood and Semen III and Milk/Blood using formal arrangements and references to earlier artistic styles to inform his photographs with personal and potentially political content.

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' 1998

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' (detail) 1998

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.) (detail)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

After an extensive period working in Europe memorializing the Holocaust, Shimon Attie returned to San Francisco in 1996 and began his series Untitled Memory. Attie projected old photographs of his friends and lovers onto places with special meaning to him, including this room of a former apartment. His photographs of these projections became personal studies of loss and melancholy.

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled (Hujar Dead)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992)
Untitled (Hujar Dead)
1988-89
Black and white photograph, acrylic, text and collage on Massonite
Collect of Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol
Courtesy Second Ward Foundation

 

Wojnarowicz was briefly lovers with and then became a close friend of the famous photographer Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1987. Untitled (Hujar Dead) incorporates still images from a film by Wojnarowicz of Hujar’s lifeless body on his hospital bed. Wojnarowicz then overprinted the text of one of his famous “rants.” In these politically-charged performances and texts, he laid blame for the AIDS crisis squarely on the conservative right-wing demagogues who politicised the disease and continually spewed homophobic rhetoric which only exacerbated the crisis.

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010 (detail)

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers (detail)
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers incorporates aspects of his Mexican heritage, and especially the tradition of skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This family-oriented celebration of ancestors brings the living and dead into affectionate proximity. Rodriguez here exuberantly conflates familiar American oppositions such as death and life, growth and decay, and even good and evil. Inherently androgynous, the gender of the skulls remains unknown as does their cause of death. But as in the Dia de los Muertos celebration itself, Rodriguez’s image supplants horror with humor and loss with presence, offering the triumph of love and memory over death in the age of AIDS.

 

David Wojnarowicz (Born Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954; Died New York, New York, 1992) 'Untitled (Buffalo)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (Born Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954; Died New York, New York, 1992)
Untitled (Buffalo)
1988-89
Vintage gelatin silver print, signed on verso
Collection of Michael Sodomick

 

For Untitled (Buffalo), David Wojnarowicz simply photographed a diorama in a museum in Washington, DC. This image of buffalo being herded off a cliff served as a chilling metaphor of the politics of AIDS in the US in the late 1980s. Rather than an illustration of traditional Native American hunting techniques, Wojnarowicz eloquently expressed his rage, desperation, and helplessness through the great symbol of American identity. His shifting and layering of meaning onto this symbol is a classic example of poetic postmodernism.

One example of how artists hid their message is David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (Buffalo). It’s a diorama of a buffalo fall, a traditional method of harvesting large numbers of buffalo by chasing herds off cliffs. The buffalo are made from plastic. Wojnarowicz photographed the diorama and cropped it. “This is appropriation,” Hushka said. “He used it as this extraordinarily eloquent cry about the state of American politics at the time.” Katz added, “It’s telling that even an artist of Wojnarowicz’s activist fervor engaged in a metaphor that only cohered in the mind’s eye. You needed to be attentive to what it might be saying to read it. There’s nothing specifically AIDS about it.”

 

 

Spiritual Forces

Because of the overwhelming number of deaths, the unspeakable losses, and the constant presence of disease, it should not be surprising that artists also turned to issues of spirituality. Yet, the art history of AIDS often neglects this important aspect. Across the United States, faith communities tended to the spiritual needs of people with AIDS and provided critical services for them. These communities continue to support people living with HIV.

The AIDS crisis exposed deep division within many spiritual traditions. Artists such as Jerome Caja, Robert Gober, and Barbara Kruger expressed discomfort and displeasure in how some religious ideologies oppressed gays and lesbians and worsened the AIDS crisis. Others made inspiring works within long-established traditions like Keith Haring’s altar piece. In other artworks, artists created symbols for the dignity of people suffering from AIDS, ranging from Christian saints and Biblical texts to imagery inspired by Buddhism and healing traditions from India.

 

Keith Haring (born 1958, died 1990) 'Altar Piece' 1990 (cast 1996)

 

Keith Haring (born 1958, died 1990)
Altar Piece
1990 (cast 1996)
Bronze with white gold leaf patina, edition 2 of 9
60 × 81 x 2 inches
Denver Art Museum, Gift of Yoko Ono, 1996.204A-C.
© Keith Haring Foundation
Photo © Denver Art Museum

 

This altar piece by Keith Haring is the last work the artist completed. He worked on the wax mold while he was hospitalized for AIDS-related illnesses. The triptych format echoes traditional Roman Catholic altar pieces. The image of the crying mother holding an infant speaks to the inconsolable losses from AIDS. The mother’s tears fall on the crowds, seeking solace and mercy from the AIDS epidemic.

 

Barbara Kruger (Born Newark, New Jersey, 1945) 'Untitled (It's our pleasure to disgust you)' 1991

 

Barbara Kruger (Born Newark, New Jersey, 1945)
Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you)
1991
Photographic silkscreen on vinyl
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gift of Eric and Nannette Brill

 

Despite provocative imagery and text, Barbara Kruger intends no specific meaning to her artworks. Rather, Kruger wants to demonstrate how the reader generates meaning each time the text is read. She activates ambiguity and political charge with the phrase “It’s our pleasure to disgust you.” Kruger underscores the gulf between and image and its possible meanings, an issue brought into high relief in the culture wars promoted by religious conservatives, during the period when this work was made.

The work may be interpreted as evidence that artists like Kruger were deliberately insensitive to cultural norms. Alternatively, it could be read as proof that artworks were deliberately manipulated for political purpose by others. Because AIDS was framed in political terms from its earliest moment, Kruger’s Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you) reflects the complexity and deliberate uses of language about AIDS.

 

Robert Gober (Born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954) 'Drains' 1990

 

Robert Gober (Born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954)
Drains
1990
Cast pewter Edition of 8, with 2 artist’s proofs, artist’s proof 1 of 2
Collection of the artist

 

Robert Gober’s Drains is meticulously handcrafted to resemble a mass-produced consumer good. Because we think about drains primarily as a tool to remove waste often associated with personal hygiene and cleaning, connections to HIV/AIDS are obvious. By placing the sculpture in an unexpected position on a gallery wall, Gober seeks to generate unanswerable, metaphorical questions about the functions of a drain and the unknown space behind it. The cruciform shape at the back of the drain recalls his childhood and his complicated relationship with Catholicism.

 

Izhar Patkin (Born Haifa, Israel, 1955) 'Unveiling of a Modern Chastity' 1981

 

Izhar Patkin (Born Haifa, Israel, 1955)
Unveiling of a Modern Chastity
1981
Rubber paste, latex theatrical wounds, and
printing ink on a stretched linen canvas
Courtesy of the artist

 

Izhar Patkin painted Unveiling of a Modern Chastity one year before there was any public announcement about a new disease striking formerly healthy young men. This is the earliest work in the exhibition, and, in retrospect, one of the earliest AIDS paintings ever. Troubled by the sight of a group of such young men with similar dark purple skin lesions waiting in his dermatologist’s office, he presciently titled the work to reflect what he felt might be a forthcoming change in sexual culture. The painting’s skin-like surface erupts in what looks like Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions.

Patkin’s heavily textured surface and use of artificial wounds was his effort to destroy minimalism and other traditions of pure abstraction. He wanted to expose the inability of modernist art to contain pressing social and contextual significance.

DID YOU KNOW? The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981.

 

Albert J. Winn (born 1947, died 2014) 'Akedah' 1995

 

Albert J. Winn (born 1947, died 2014)
Akedah
1995
Gelatin silver print
171/2 × 21 ¾ inches
Courtesy of Scott R. Portnoff
Photo courtesy of the Estate of Albert J. Winn

 

In the artist’s own words: “Every month, because of my illness, I need to undergo a blood test. During the process, a tourniquet is bound tightly about my upper arm. At times when I’ve been on a study protocol for an experimental medicine, I’ve had my blood drawn every day. Having my blood drawn has become a ritual in what sometimes seems is a new religious practice, an AIDS ritual.

“Over time, I’ve transformed this ritual in relation to my Judaism. I wonder if like Isaac, I am being sacrificed. This time to science. I pray that an angel will intercede and spare my life. When my arm is bound with a tourniquet and the veins bulge, I am reminded that I am bound to my illness. I look at the rubber strap and see tefillin. Sometimes the impression of the leather straps from the tefillin are still visible on my skin by the time the tourniquet is wrapped around my arm. The binding of the tefillin is a reminder of being bound to my heritage. The straps also make my veins bulge. Except for the needle stick the binding feels the same.”

 

 

Art AIDS America at the Tacoma Art Museum

Politics, sex, religion, loss, and beauty – all of the topics that you can’t talk about over dinner but can at a museum – are open for discussion in Art AIDS America, an exhibition that reveals for the first time how the AIDS crisis forever changed American art. Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful.

Art AIDS America is a story of resilience and beauty revealed through art, and the community that gathered to bring hope and change. While recognizing and honoring loss and grief, it refutes the narrative that AIDS is only a tragic tangent in American art, exploring how artists’ responses to the crisis and its legacy continue to inform contemporary American art. These artworks offer a vibrant representation of community, caring, creativity and activism. And, Art AIDS America will serve as a vivid reminder that the crisis is not over; HIV infections are increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV.

A decade in the making, this exhibition is co-curated by TAM’s Chief Curator, Rock Hushka, and Jonathan D. Katz, PhD, Director, Visual Studies Doctoral Program, University at Buffalo.

“AIDS fundamentally changed American art, remaking its communicative strategies, its market, its emotional pitch and – not least – its political possibilities. But we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in the making of contemporary American culture, as we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in every other aspect of our lives. This exhibition underscores how powerfully a plague that is still with us has changed us,” says Katz. “Art AIDS America creates spaces for mourning and loss, yes, but also for anger and for joy, for political resistance and for humor, for horror, and for eroticism.”

The exhibition assembles 125 significant works in a wide range of media. The artists are diverse, including the internationally acclaimed such as Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Martin Wong, and those not yet as widely celebrated such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Chloe Dzubilo, Derek Jackson, Kia Labeija, and Joey Terrill. The works date from 1981 to today, and some, like Catherine Opie’s photographs of the 1986 AIDS/ARC vigil in San Francisco, will be on public view for the first time.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

Works in the exhibition will generally fall into two categories: art with a clear tie to AIDS, and art that requires the viewer to look beyond the surface to understand its connection to HIV/AIDS. Some artists addressed the AIDS crisis through activist works, community projects, graphics, and direct political statements. For example, the collective ACT UP NY/Gran Fury’s installation Let the Record Show… sears the words of public officials whose actions inflamed the crisis, including the silence of President Ronald Reagan, who would not speak publicly about AIDS until 1987. Other artists use camouflage, coding, misdirection, symbols, or other covert strategies to address the social, political, and physical impacts of HIV. An example is Robert Sherer’s beautifully rendered Sweet Williams, a basket of cut flowers, painted in HIV-negative and HIV-positive blood, about the untimely deaths of so many young men. The exhibition will be organized roughly by works created pre- and post-cocktail (in this case, ‘cocktail’ refers to the combination of drugs and therapies used to manage HIV and prevent the development of AIDS).

“Tacoma Art Museum is a safe space where people are able to address important and challenging issues. We are proud to present Art AIDS America. It is fitting that the exhibition debuts in Tacoma, the city that established the nation’s first government-sanctioned needle exchange program in a proactive approach toward controlling the spread of AIDS,” said Stephanie Stebich, TAM’s Executive Director. “TAM also has the scholarship to support this exhibition through our chief curator Rock Hushka and the exhibition’s co-curator Dr. Jonathan D. Katz, who also co-curated the award-winning Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which we brought to TAM in 2012.”

The Art AIDS America catalogue is a significant component of the exhibition, with 15 contributors, nearly 300 pages, and more than 200 illustrations. It is published in association with the University of Washington Press of Seattle and London and designed by Marquand Books, Seattle. Art AIDS America is organized by TAM in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts and will tour nationally. See it first at TAM, on view October 3, 2015 through January 10, 2016. The exhibition will then travel to Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, GA; and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY.”

Press release from the Tacoma Art Museum website

 

Bill Jacobson (born 1955) 'Interim Portrait #373' 1992

 

Bill Jacobson (born 1955)
Interim Portrait #373
1992
Chromogenic color print
24 × 20 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Alon Reininger (Born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947) 'Ken Meeks, PWA' 1985

 

Alon Reininger (Born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947)
Ken Meeks, PWA
1985
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of Contact Press Images, New York

 

Mark I. Chester (Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950) 'Robert Chesley - ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1–#6' 1989, printed 2015

 

Mark I. Chester (Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950)
Robert Chesley – ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1–#6
from the series Diary of a Thought Criminal
1989, printed 2015
Pigment print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Mark I. Chester gives us the first portrait of a sexually active person with AIDS. Robert Chesley (1943-1990) was a playwright, theater critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and music composer. Perhaps his most celebrated play was Jerker, or The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty. At a time when many gay men had come to associate their own sexuality with death, the artist showed Chesley as a vibrant, active person with AIDS, intended as a rebuke to the routine AIDS portraits of mortally ill people. With this series, Chester rewrote the late-1980s codes for representing gay male sexuality from sexlessness and death towards a renewed embrace of life and its pleasure.

 

Steven Miller (Born Tucson, Arizona, 1968) 'Robert' from the series 'Milky' 2004

 

Steven Miller (Born Tucson, Arizona, 1968)
Robert from the series Milky
2004
Inkjet print
Edition 2 of 10
Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from Curtis Man

 

For his series Milky, photographer Steven Miller asked his friends if he could photograph them as he poured milk over their heads. These portraits capture the different reactions to the sensation and convey a sense of discomfort from being drenched by fluids like milk. Miller likens these two aspects to a symbolic infection of HIV. For many gay artists of his generation, HIV looms as a constant presence, and body fluids remain deeply ingrained as transmitters of the virus.

 

 

Portraiture

Artists used portraits to directly convey the devastating effects of the crisis on individuals. Even if we do not know the subject, portraits remind us that someone we know was likely affected by AIDS. Because the science about the retrovirus was new and extremely complicated and frightening, such portraits humanized the disease so it could be understood through personal stories.

Early portraits brought attention to the physical symptoms of AIDS such as the deep purple lesions of the skin cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma and the devastating weakness caused by AIDS-related wasting syndrome. Artists soon refocused on portraits of defiant individuals living with HIV. Refusing to show people as victims of an incurable disease, these portraits depicted fighters and survivors.

From pure abstract representations to straightforward photographic likenesses, portraits continue to illuminate how individuals respond to and overcome even the most complex aspects of HIV/AIDS such as stigma, racism, sexism, and poverty.

 

The Legacy of the AIDS Crisis

HIV is no longer an immediate life-or-death issue facing American artists, but one that quietly and continually persists in intriguing ways. The legacy of the AIDS crisis can be traced either through the motifs and influences of earlier artists or by understanding the psychological trauma and challenges that result from living in a world with HIV.

Artworks made after antiretroviral medicines became available in the mid-1990s beg the questions: If HIV is undetectable in a body and all but invisible in society, why should visibility in art be any different? How do you identify HIV if an artist is unwilling to speak about it but doesn’t live a moment of his or her intimate life without being aware of its near-certain presence?

Artists such as John Arsenault, Kalup Linzy, Patte Loper, and Donald Moffett bring their personal histories as activists and care givers into their artwork. They also use their art to express the discomfort and complexities of living in a world with the constant presence of HIV.

Works of art should be read with empathy and compassion to understand the fullness and richness of the artist’s experience. We need to remind ourselves of the stresses, anxieties, fears, and realities caused by the burden of HIV. To honor these artists’ experiences, we must insist that HIV inform at least part of the meaning of their work. This will ensure an understanding of their art as part of an art history of deep social engagement and connection.

 

Julie Tolentino (Born San Francisco, California, 1964) 'THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey's Self-Obliteration #1' 2008

 

Julie Tolentino (Born San Francisco, California, 1964)
THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1
2008
Chromogenic color print
Edition 1 of 5
Documentation courtesy of Leon Mostovoy
Courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles

 

These three photographs capture different moments in the archive/performance of THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1. Tolentino first observes Athey’s performance of Self-Obliteration #1 from a nearby platform; then she and Athey repeat the action on separate platforms as a duet. Finally, Tolentino repeats Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1 by herself.

As needles hidden within the performers’ long blond wigs lacerate their scalps, blood streams down their faces and bodies and smears a plane of glass. This forces the performers into unpredictable psychic territory. The HIV status of both perfomers – Athey is HIV-positive and Tolentino is negative – informs the tension between the two performers that runs like a low current throughout the work. The simultaneous flows of blood from the performers quickly conjoins them in a profound act of communion across pain, suffering, memory, and ultimately, an affirmation of life.

 

Catherine Opie (Born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961) 'Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)' 2000

 

Catherine Opie (Born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961)
Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)
2000
Polaroid
Private collection

 

This work by Catherine Opie, taken with the world’s largest polaroid camera, was made in collaboration with the performance artist Ron Athey. Athey achieved both fame and censure as an HIV positive performance artist whose work involved physical and psychic trials, along with, on occasion, blood.

Clearly a response to AIDS, the pose of Ron Athey/The Sick Man recalls the traditional iconography of the Pieta, in which the Virgin Mary supports the body of the dead Christ. Athey is held by his performance partner Darryl Carlton (a.k.a. Divinity Fudge), two heavily tattooed men in place of the holy family. The implications of self-sacrifice and transcendence through pain and suffering animate both the original scene and this more contemporary incarnation. Opie situated the figures in a beautiful, richly saturated black space. She offers a contemporary allegory of the excluded sufferer whose exile and death can be laid at the feet of those who consider themselves pious.

 

Eric Rhein (Born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961) 'Life Altering Spencer from Leaves' 2013

 

Eric Rhein (Born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961)
Life Altering Spencer from Leaves
2013
Wire and paper
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
Purchased as the gift of Louis Wiley, Jr. (PA 1963) in Memory of Paul Monette (PA 1963) and his partner Roger Horwitz

 

Eric Rhein began The Leaf Project in 1996 to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS and chose to memorialize his friends who had died of AIDS-related causes. He selected the leaf motif to honor the individuality of each person, while also evoking the countless leaves shed by trees in autumn. Life Altering Spencer honors AIDS activist Spencer Cox (1968-2012), a member of ACT UP, Treatment Action Group, and the Food and Drug Administration’s Anti-Viral Advisory Committee. In this capacity, Cox and others became experts on drug trials and approval, successfully lobbying to hasten the approval time for new HIV medications. Cox and his group thus changed the course of medicine in America – the first non-physicians to do so – and, not coincidentally, these new treatments saved the life of artist Eric Rhein.

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991) 'For the Record' 2013

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991)
For the Record
2013
Two offset prints on newsprint, two panels, installed: 22⅝ x 70 inches
Courtesy of the artists
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

The collaborative group fierce pussy created this work for the organization Visual AIDS in New York City. Playing off Gran Fury’s 1987 Let the Record Show… and evoking postmodern text based art, fierce pussy asks that we remember the thousands of people who died of HIV-related causes before antiretroviral drugs became available to control the virus. They insist that we continue the work to end HIV/AIDS despite these new drugs.

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honor of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002 (detail)

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected (detail)
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honor of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

The horse with no rider at the center of the composition represents individuals on the reservation who have died of AIDS-related causes. Using the 19th-century tradition of ledger drawing, with a riderless horse as symbolic of a warrior who fell in battle, Haukaas weaves together the complicated issues of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and the Native American experience with the disease.

 

Robert Sherer (Born Jasper, Alabama, 1957) 'Sweet Williams' 2013

 

Robert Sherer (Born Jasper, Alabama, 1957)
Sweet Williams
2013
HIV- and HIV+ blood on paper
Courtesy of the artist

 

The title Sweet Williams comes from Robert Sherer’s childhood. His grandmother, an avid gardener, often asked him to help gather flowers from her garden and instructed, “Now, honey, cut down the most beautiful ones first.” Upon reflection, Sherer realized that AIDS was deeply correlated to beauty and sexual attraction. He remembers his many handsome friends and acquaintances who died too early – the Williams, the Billys, the Wills, the Willies – memorializing them in an image drawn in HIV negative and positive blood. Of all his colleague friends, two of whom were named William, only Sherer is still alive.

 

Joey Terrill (Born Los Angeles, California, 1955) 'Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week's Dose of Truvada' 2012

 

Joey Terrill (Born Los Angeles, California, 1955)
Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week’s Dose of Truvada
2012
Mixed media on canvas
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Foundation purchase

 

Long-time Latino queer rights and AIDS activist Joey Terrill makes paintings that resemble the work of such well-known pop artists as Tom Wesselmann. Departing from Wesselmann’s 1960s pop still-life paintings, Terrill subverts the genre through his many queer references, not least the regular inclusion of the HIV medication Truvada. In these his appropriations of the American dream, Terrill shows himself to be a political activist – a role he has inhabited since the 1970s.

Terrill’s addition of the forget-me-nots at the center of the composition pays homage to his artistic hero David Wojnarowicz. He also alludes to the daily routine of the antiviral medicine Truvada and pointedly questions why changes in the social and political realms have allowed this to be a normal part of so many people’s lives.

 

Derek Jackson (Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972) 'Perfect Kiss' 2007

 

Derek Jackson (Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972)
Perfect Kiss
2007
Slideshow with found music and original still imagery
Courtesy of the artist

 

Derek Jackson enacts a series of “hookups” in which his sexual activity should necessarily raise issues of HIV. Although not explicitly mentioned, HIV is evoked by the lyrics of his soundtrack. Jackson relies on New Order’s 1987 hit Perfect Kiss to equate unsafe sex with a suicide. The lyrics of the chorus plead with a suicidal friend, “I know, you know, you believe in a land of love.” Jackson’s hookups demonstrate how self-esteem, mutual respect, and communication are necessary to avoid becoming HIV positive.

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland) John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971 Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980 'Eden #31' 2012

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland)
John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971
Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980
Eden #31
2012
Chromogenic color print
Courtesy of the artists

 

LADZ coined their name after a humorous autocorrect of “ladies” while texting on their smart phones. The artist group finds virtually abandoned industrial spaces where they enact elaborate scenarios reflecting the complexities of life in Los Angeles. The heightened sexual tension combined with the boxing gloves provides a glimpse into the daily navigation of sexual activity and HIV.

 

Kalup Linzy (Born Stuckey, Florida, 1977) 'Lollypop' 2006

 

Kalup Linzy (Born Stuckey, Florida, 1977)
Lollypop
2006
Single-channel video
3 minutes, 24 seconds
Collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky

 

Kalup Linzy and his friend, artist Shaun Leonardo, lip sync the 1933 Hunter & Jenkins tune. Laden with the sexual innuendo of the song’s lyrics, Linzy attempts to coax treats from Leonardo. The artist playfully raises issues of gender and performance.

Given the high rates of HIV infection of men of color who have sex with men particularly in urban centers, a viewer should keep in mind that individuals like Linzy continually navigate HIV in all their sexual encounters. Unlike a generation ago, young men and women have come to have a different relationship with HIV and no longer fear the virus as a death sentence. Empathy toward their experiences is key to understanding how they cope and survive.

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952) 'Still Here' 2007

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952)
Still Here
2007
Oil and acrylic on canvas
45 × 63 inches
Private collection
© 2015 Deborah Kass / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery

 

Deborah Kass painted Still Here as part of a group of paintings called Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times, beginning in 2006. A response to the ongoing foreign wars and domestic political issues after the second election of George W. Bush, Kass underscored the gulf between the literal and metaphorical significance of the phrases she painted. Still Here comes from the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies in which a faded film star recalls how she persevered. The song opens “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all, and, my dear, I’m still here.”

The sentiment of the song speaks to the resilience of the many people who lived through the AIDS crisis and those who continue the struggle against the virus and social injustice. Kass’s title may also recall Still/Here, a dance about perseverance, dying, and HIV by the HIV positive choreographer Bill T. Jones.

 

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

 

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990)
24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room)
2014
Inkjet prints
13 × 19 inches
Courtesy of the artist

 

Artist and performer Kia Labeija was born HIV positive. She struggled with HIV throughout her childhood, including the side effects of the medications, the stigma associated with the disease, and the death of her mother. In her three photographs titled 24, she celebrates coming to terms with the disease and her new-found role as advocate and spokesperson for AIDS awareness. The title also commemorates her 24th birthday and her home on the 24th floor of a Manhattan apartment building.

 

 

 

Tacoma Art Museum
1701 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday  10 am – 5 pm
Free Third Thursday 5 pm – 8 pm

Tacoma Art Museum website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

Join 1,653 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

July 2016
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Archives

Categories


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,653 other followers