Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Opie

16
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Ansel Adams in Our Time’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 13th December 2018 – 24th February 2019

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco' 1932

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 69.9 cm (19 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Ansel Adams is a wonderful classical, (clinical?), formal photographer… but a photographer of people, Native Indians, Indian dances and the urban landscape, he ain’t. Simply put, he’s not much good at these subjects. In this posting, best stick with what he’s really good at – beautifully balanced art and environmental activist photographs. Oh, the light and form! Images that teeter towards the sublime held in check by F64, perspective and objectivity.

Interesting to have the historical work to riff off, and “contemporary artists whose modern-day concerns centred on the environment, land rights, and the use and misuse of natural resources point directly to Adams’ legacy” … but as with so many exhibitions that try to place an artist within a historical and contemporary context, their work is not necessary. In fact, it probably diminishes the utopian vision of one of the world’s best known photographers.

Marcus

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

 

Ansel Adams in Our Time traces the iconic visual legacy of Ansel Adams (1902-1984), presenting some of his most celebrated prints, from a symphonic view of snow-dusted peaks in The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (1942) to an aerial shot of a knotted roadway in Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles (1967). The exhibition looks both backward and forward in time: his black-and-white photographs are displayed alongside prints by several of the 19th-century government survey photographers who greatly influenced Adams, as well as work by contemporary artists whose modern-day concerns centred on the environment, land rights, and the use and misuse of natural resources point directly to Adams’ legacy.

While crafting his own modernist vision, Adams was inspired by precursors in government survey and expedition photography such as Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882) and Frank Jay Haynes (1853-1921), who worked with large bulky cameras and glass-plate negatives and set off into the wilderness carrying their equipment on mules. In some cases, Adams replicated their exact views of the Yosemite Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and Yellowstone, producing images that would become emblematic of the country’s national parks. In Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park (about 1937), the granite crags of the Yosemite Valley are wreathed in clouds after a sudden storm. Executed with unrivalled sensitivity and rigorous exactitude, the artist’s photographs popularised the notion that the American West was a pristine, and largely uninhabited, wilderness.

Ansel Adams in Our Time also brings Adams forward in time, juxtaposing his work with that of contemporary artists such as Mark Klett (born 1962), Trevor Paglen (born 1974), Catherine Opie (born 1961), Abelardo Morell (born 1948), Victoria Sambunaris (born 1964), and Binh Danh (born 1977). The more than 20 present-day photographers in the exhibition have not only been drawn to some of the same locations, but also engaged with many of the themes central to Adams’ legacy: desert and wilderness spaces, Native Americans and the Southwest, and broader issues affecting the environment: logging, mining, drought and fire, booms and busts, development, and urban sprawl.

Adams’ stunning images were last on view at the MFA in a major exhibition in 2005; this new, even larger presentation places his work in the context of the 21st century, with all that implies about the role photography has played – and continues to play – in our changing perceptions of the land. The Adams photographs in the exhibition are drawn from the Lane Collection, one of the largest and most significant gifts in MFA history.

Text from the MFA website

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada, California' 1948

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
38.8 x 49.1 cm (15 1/4 x 19 5/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Marion Lake, Kings River Canyon, California' c. 1925

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Marion Lake, Kings River Canyon, California (from Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras)
c. 1925; print date: 1927
Gelatin silver print
14.6 x 19.8 cm (5 3/4 x 7 13/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Early Morning, Merced River Canyon, Yosemite National Park' c. 1950

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Early Morning, Merced River Canyon, Yosemite National Park
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 39.4 x 49.7 cm (15 1/2 x 19 9/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
1941
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 19.1 x 23.8 cm (7 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Thunderstorm, Ghost Ranch, Chama River Valley, Northern New Mexico' 1937

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Thunderstorm, Ghost Ranch, Chama River Valley, Northern New Mexico
1937; print date: about 1948
Gelatin silver print
16.6 x 22.9 cm (6 9/16 x 9 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park' c. 1937

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles' 1967

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles
1967
Gelatin silver print
37.2 x 34.8 cm (14 5/8 x 13 11/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Self‑Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah' 1958

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
SelfPortrait, Monument Valley, Utah
1958
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

 

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is the rare artist whose works have helped to define a genre. Over the last half-century, his black-and-white photographs have become, for many viewers, visual embodiments of the sites he captured: Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, the Sierra Nevada, the American Southwest and more. These images constitute an iconic visual legacy – one that continues to inspire and provoke. Organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), Ansel Adams in Our Time offers a new perspective on one of the best-known and most beloved American photographers by placing him into a dual conversation with his predecessors and contemporary artists. While crafting his own modernist vision, Adams followed in the footsteps of 19th-century forerunners in government survey and expedition photography such as Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Timothy O’Sullivan and Frank Jay Haynes. Today, photographers including Mark Klett, Trevor Paglen, Catherine Opie, Abelardo Morell, Victoria Sambunaris and Binh Danh are engaging anew with the sites and subjects that occupied Adams, as well as broader environmental issues such as drought and fire, mining and energy, economic booms and busts, protected places and urban sprawl. Approximately half of the nearly 200 works in the exhibition are photographs by Adams, drawn from the Lane Collection – one of the largest and most significant gifts in the MFA’s history, which made the Museum one of the major holders of the artist’s work. The photographs by 19th-century and contemporary artists are on loan from public institutions, galleries and private collectors. Ansel Adams in Our Time is on view in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery from December 13, 2018 through February 24, 2019. Visitors are encouraged to use #AnselAdamsInOurTime to share their exhibition experiences on social media, as well as submit Adams-inspired landscape photos on Instagram for a chance to win an MFA membership, Ansel Adams publication and a private curatorial tour. Ansel Adams in Our Time is presented with proud recognition of The Wilderness Society and the League of Conservation Voters, made possible by Scott Nathan and Laura DeBonis. Sponsored by Northern Trust. Additional support from the Robert and Jane Burke Fund for Exhibitions, and Peter and Catherine Creighton. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA.

“Ansel Adams is a larger-than-life figure in the field of photography, and the generous gift of more than 450 of his prints from the Lane Collection has inspired me to revisit his work. With this exhibition, I hope to open up new conversations around this seminal artist, by looking both backward and forward in time,” said Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs. “I invite our visitors to explore the role that photography has historically played in our changing perceptions of the American West, as well as to consider Adams’ legacy of environmental activism – one that still speaks to us today.”

 

Exhibition overview

Capturing the View

Organised both thematically and chronologically into eight sections, the exhibition begins where Adams’ own photographic life began. Perhaps no place had a more lasting influence on him than Yosemite National Park, in his native California. Adams first visited Yosemite at age 14, bringing along a Kodak Box Brownie camera given to him by his father, and returned almost every year for the rest of his life. It was not only where he honed his skills, but also where he came to recognise the power of photographs to express emotion and meaning. Showcasing its spectacular granite peaks, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, Adams’ photographs of Yosemite have become virtually synonymous with the park itself. Adams, however, was not the first to take a camera into the mountains of California. He acknowledged his debt to the earliest photographers to arrive in the Yosemite Valley, including Carleton Watkins, who in the 1860s began to record scenic views with a cumbersome large-format camera and fragile glass plate negatives processed in the field. Watkins’ 19th-century photographs helped to introduce Americans “back east” to the nation’s dramatic western landscapes, while Adams’ 20th-century images made famous the notion of their “untouched wilderness.” Today, photographers such as Mark Klett are grappling with these legacies. Klett and his longtime collaborator Byron Wolfe have studied canonical views of Yosemite Valley by Adams and Watkins, using the latest technology to produce composite panoramas that document changes made to the landscape over more than a century, as well as the ever-growing presence of human activity.

 

Marketing the View

As a member of the Sierra Club, which he joined in 1919 at age 17, Adams regularly embarked on the environmental organisation’s annual, month-long “High Trips” to the Sierra Nevada mountains. He produced albums of photographs from these treks, inviting club members to select and order prints. This precocious ingenuity ultimately led to the Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (1927) – one of the earliest experiments in custom printing, sequencing and distributing fine photographs. Sixteen of the 18 prints from the portfolio, including the iconic Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, are on view in the second gallery of the exhibition, which connects Adams’ innovations in marketing his views of the western U.S. to those of his predecessors. In the 19th century, an entire industry of mass-marketing and distributing images of “the frontier” emerged, catering to a burgeoning tourist trade. In addition to engravings and halftones published in books, magazines and newspapers, photographs such as Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33 (1872) by Eadweard Muybridge were circulated through stereo cards, which allowed armchair travellers to experience remote places in three dimensions when viewed through a stereoscope. Today, photography remains closely linked with scenic vistas of the American West. Creating works in extended series or grids, artists including Matthew Brandt, Sharon Harper and Mark Rudewel seem to be responding to the earlier tradition of mass-marketing western views, using photography as a medium to call attention to the passage of time and the changing nature of landscapes.

 

San Francisco – Becoming a Modernist

The third section of the exhibition focuses on Adams’ hometown of San Francisco, which has long captured photographers’ imaginations with its rolling hills and dramatic orientation toward the water. The city’s transformation over more than a century – including changes made to the urban landscape following the devastating earthquake and fire in 1906 and the rise of skyscrapers in the later 20th century – can be observed in the juxtaposition of panoramas by Eadweard Muybridge and Mark Klett, taken from the same spot 113 years apart. Adams’ images of San Francisco from the 1920s and 1930s trace his development into a modernist photographer, as he experimented with a large-format camera to produce maximum depth of field and extremely sharp-focused images. During the Great Depression, Adams also took on a wider range of subjects, including the challenging reality of urban life in his hometown. He photographed the demolition of abandoned buildings, toppled cemetery headstones, political signs and the patina of a city struggling during difficult times. One sign of hope for the future at the time was the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, which began in 1933. Adams’ The Golden Gate before the Bridge (1932), taken near his family home five years before the bridge’s opening in 1937, is displayed alongside four contemporary prints from the Golden Gate Bridge project (Private Collection, Cambridge) by Richard Misrach, taken from his own porch in Berkeley Hills. Placing his large-format camera in exactly the same position on each occasion, Misrach recorded hundreds of views of the distant span, at different times of the day and in every season. The series, photographed over three years from 1997 to 2000, was reissued in 2012 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate’s landmark opening. The vast expanses of sky in Misrach’s works echo the focus on the massive cumulus cloud in the earlier photograph by Adams, who was fascinated with changing weather and landscapes with seemingly infinite space.

 

Adams in the American Southwest

Adams produced some of his most memorable images – among them, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941; print date: 1965-75) – during his frequent travels to the American Southwest. He was intrigued by the region’s distinctive landscape, brilliant sunlight and sudden dramatic storms, as well as its rich mix of cultures. Shortly after his first trip to New Mexico in 1927, Adams collaborated with author Mary Hunter Austin on the illustrated book Taos Pueblo (1930, Harvard Art Museums), for which he contributed 12 photographs that reflect his interest in Taos Pueblo’s architecture and activities. Adams shared Austin’s concern that the artistic and religious traditions of the Pueblo peoples were under threat from the increasing numbers of people traveling through or settling in the region. In contrast to the indigenous peoples of Yosemite, who had been forced out of their native lands many years earlier, Pueblo peoples were still living in their ancestral villages. On his return visits to the American Southwest, Adams often photographed the native communities, their dwellings and their ancient ruins. He also photographed Indian dances, which had become popular among tourists who came by train and automobile to be entertained and to buy pottery, jewellery and other souvenirs. Adams’ images of dancers, which emphasise their costumes, postures and expressions, therefore have a complex legacy, as he was one of the onlookers – though he carefully cropped out any evidence of the gathered crowds. Today, indigenous artists including Diné photographer Will Wilson, are creating work that responds to and confronts past depictions of Native Americans by white artists who travelled west to “document” the people who were viewed as a “vanishing race” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

Picturing the National Parks

The largest section of the exhibition examines the critical role that photography has played in the history of the national parks. In the 19th century, dramatic views captured by Carleton Watkins and other photographers ultimately helped convince government officials to take action to protect Yosemite and Yellowstone from private development. Adams, too, was aware of the power of the image to sway opinions on land preservation. In 1941 Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, hired Adams to make a series of mural-sized photographs of the national parks for the capital’s new Interior Building. Although his government funding was cut short by America’s entry into World War II and the murals were never realised, Adams felt so strongly about the value of the project that he sought financial assistance on his own. He secured Guggenheim Foundation grants in 1946 and 1948, which allowed him to travel to national parks from Alaska to Texas, Hawaii to Maine. Marked by a potent combination of art and environmental activism, the photographs he made spread his belief in the transformative power of the parks to a wide audience. Many contemporary artists working in the national parks acknowledge, as Adams did, the work of the photographers who came before them. But the complicated legacies of these protected lands have led some – including Catherine Opie, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Binh Danh and Abelardo Morell – to take more personal and political approaches to the work they are making in these spaces.

 

The Other Side of the Mountains

Adams made his reputation mainly through spectacular images of “unspoiled” nature. Less well known are the photographs he produced of the more forbidding, arid landscapes in California’s Death Valley and Owens Valley, just southeast of Yosemite. Here, on the other side of the Sierra Nevada, Adams’ work took a dramatic detour. Fellow photographer Edward Weston introduced Adams to Death Valley, where he captured images of sand dunes, salt flats and sandstones canyons. Owens Valley, located to the west, was once verdant farmland, but was suffering by the 1940s, its water siphoned off to supply the growing city of Los Angeles. In 1943, Adams also traveled to nearby Manzanar, where he photographed Japanese Americans forcibly relocated to internment camps shortly after the U.S. entered World War II. Trevor Paglen, Stephen Tourlentes and David Benjamin Sherry are among the contemporary photographers who continue to find compelling subjects in these remote landscapes. Some are drawn to them as “blank slates” upon which to leave their mark, while others explore the raw beauty of the desolate terrain and the many, sometimes unsettling ways it used today – including as a site for maximum-security prisons and clandestine military projects.

 

The Changing Landscape

Adams’ photographs are appreciated for their imagery and formal qualities, but they also carry a message of advocacy. The last two sections of the exhibition examine the continually changing landscapes of the sites once captured by Adams. In his own time, the photographer was well aware of the environmental concerns facing California and the nation – thanks, in part, to his involvement with the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society. As his career progressed, Adams began to move away from symphonic and pristine wilderness landscapes in favour of images that showed a more nuanced vision. He photographed urban sprawl, freeways, graffiti, oil drilling, ghost towns, rural cemeteries and mining towns, as well as quieter, less romantic views of nature, such as the aftermath of forest fires – subjects that resonate in new ways today. For contemporary photographers working in the American West, the spirit of advocacy takes on an ever-increasing urgency, as they confront a terrain continually altered by human activity and global warming. Works by artists including Laura McPhee, Victoria Sambunaris, Mitch Epstein, Meghann Riepenhoff, Bryan Schutmaat and Lucas Foglia bear witness to these changes, countering notions that natural resources are somehow limitless and not in need of attention and protection.

Press release from the MFA

 

Carelton E. Watkins. 'The Yosemite Falls' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Printed by Taber & Co. (American, active in 1850-1860)
The Yosemite Falls
1861, printed 1880-1890
Albumen print
Image/Sheet: 39.8 x 51.2 cm (15 11/16 x 20 3/16 in.)
A. Shuman Collection – Abraham Shuman Fund

 

Catherine Opie (American, born in 1961) 'Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley)' 2015

 

Catherine Opie (American, born in 1961)
Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley)
2015
Pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul
© Catherine Opie

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916) 'Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69' 1865-66

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69
1865-66
Mammoth albumen print from wet collodion negative
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33' 1872

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33
1872
Albumen print
Image/Sheet: 42.5 x 54.2 cm (16 3/4 x 21 5/16 in.)
Gift of Charles T. and Alma A. Isaacs
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853-1921) 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls' c. 1887

 

Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853-1921)
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls
c. 1887
Albumen print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Sophie M. Friedman Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming' 1942

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
1942
Gelatin silver print
47.1 x 61.2 cm (18 9/16 x 24 1/8 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Abelardo Morell (American (born in Cuba, 1948)) 'Tent‑Camera Image on Ground: View of Mount Moran and the Snake River from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming' 2011

 

Abelardo Morell (American (born in Cuba, 1948))
TentCamera Image on Ground: View of Mount Moran and the Snake River from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
2011
Inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Adam Clark Vroman. 'Four of Hearts (Bashful)' c. 1894

 

Adam Clark Vroman (American, 1856-1916)
Publisher Lazarus and Melzer (American)
Four of Hearts (Bashful)
c. 1894
Playing card with halftone print
8.9 x 6.4 cm (3 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.)
Gift of Lewis A. Shepard
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925) 'Big Navajo' c. 1879-80

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925)
Big Navajo
c. 1879-80
Albumen print
22.9 x 19.1 cm (9 x 7 1/2 in.)
Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson – Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

John K. Hillers. 'Heaipu, Navaho Woman' c. 1879

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925)
Heaipu, Navaho Woman
c. 1879
Albumen print
Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson – Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969) 'How the West is One' 2014

 

Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969)
How the West is One
2014
Inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Will Wilson

 

Trevor Paglen (American, born in 1974) 'Untitled (Reaper Drone)' 2015

 

Trevor Paglen (American, born in 1974)
Untitled (Reaper Drone)
2015
Pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Monolith - The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park' 1927

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
1927; print date: 1950-60
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Bryan Schutmaat (American, born in 1983) 'Cemetery, Tonopah, NV' 2012

 

Bryan Schutmaat (American, born in 1983)
Cemetery, Tonopah, NV
2012
Archival inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
1941; print date: 1965-75
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941 (detail)

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (detail)
1941; print date: 1965-75
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park' c. 1932

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958) 'Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed)' 2008

 

Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958)
Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed)
2008
Archival pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Laura McPhee

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California' 1935

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California' 1939

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California
1939
Gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Mitch Epstein (American, born in 1952) 'Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California' 2007

 

Mitch Epstein (American, born in 1952)
Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California
2007
Chromogenic print
Reproduced with permission
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

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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 moments in the archival performance of THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1.

Section 1 (left): The work begins with Athey’s solo performance of Self-Obliteration #1 while Tolentino, from a nearby platform, aims to capture his performance movements and affect (a reading of tones, gestures, and movements) as an archival action.

This work involves a long blond wig pierced onto the scalp with hidden needles. The needles are removed, causing blood to stream and pool onto two panes of glass. Ultimately, these glass pieces are positioned to encase the individual body.

Section 2 (center and right): Tolentino and Athey “repeat” his performance, a true impossibility in the live form – displaying a disrupted mirroring of the other.

Like a low current running throughout the work, THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME‘s tension opens to the spectator’s subjectivity. A range of issues are activated: Athey’s openly HIV positive status; the actions performed on a differently-gendered person of colour; and the intimate act of bleeding. This becomes entangled with Tolentino’s practice, history of activism and advocacy, caregiving and artist-to-artist relations as a living archive.

 

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

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22
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Catherine Opie’ at Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 23rd February – 29th March 2013

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In a nutshell: good presentation, good idea – just needs really good pictures. In fact the presentation is too good for the pictures, so in the end it feels a bit ridiculous.

There IS something here (the relationship between young and old, wisdom and penitence, love and abuse, tondo and ethereal landscape), but it seems a bit of a muddle. For me, too many easy decisions have been made – obvious opposites, too much reliance on “black”, sometimes caricature rather than real observation… but then again there is occassionally something inside that caricature.

This feeling of muddling through is not helped by an abysmal press release. Along with zen and ironic (both of which seem to have any meaning a writer wants today), we now have sublime joining the pack. Maybe if anything is out of focus (such as these forgettable landscapes) it is sublime. As I go through each sentence I get shivers from either how generic or incorrect or meaningless or (especially) SELF-SERVING they are (…and now the new photographs make a trajectory… and now Opie draws on documentary photography AND the history of photography… and seduction, and formalism, and painting, and high aesthetic, and abstraction, and conceptualisation, a(n)d nauseum…)

I have seen “the Unphotographable” … and it is not as good as one hoped!

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

PS. When you walk across a room, you can remark about your chiaroscuro.

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Many thank to Regen Projects for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles © Catherine Opie

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Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

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Installation views
Regen Projects, Los Angeles
February 23 – March 29, 2013
Photography by Brian Forrest

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Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #4' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Untitled #4
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Edition 1/5, +2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Jonathan' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Jonathan
2012
Pigment print
50 x 38.4 inches (127 x 97.5 cm) Oval
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Idexa' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Idexa
2012
Pigment print
50 x 38.4 inches (127 x 97.5 cm) Oval
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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“Regen Projects is pleased to announce an exhibition of new portraits and landscapes by Catherine Opie. These photographs mark both a progression and a departure for the artist. Opie’s work has always investigated the figure in relation to the landscape, disregarding the polarities typically found within these approaches. This new body of work draws upon Opie’s beginnings in documentary photography, the traditions of painting, and the history of photography.

Opie’s new portraits evoke the sublime and the inner psychological space of both the viewer and subject. Utilizing techniques of chiaroscuro, color, and formal composition found in classical 17th century portraiture, Opie arranges her subjects in allegorical poses that suggest an emotional state. Evoking formal classicism, these beautifully elegant and technically masterful compositions immerse and seduce the eye. Opie’s subjects have always been part of her personal community, and the range of individuals in these new works illustrates how this community has shifted and expanded.

Catherine Opie’s work is deeply rooted in the history of photography. The new landscapes draw upon this trajectory – both contemporary and historical. In addition to utilizing motifs that informed the California Pictorialists, these works reference the painterly tradition. Images of iconic landscapes float in abstraction and are reduced to elementary blurred light drawings. The viewer no longer relies on traditional markers of recognition of place, but instead on the visceral reaction to the sensate images Opie captures. These painterly, poetic, and lyrical visions resonate with oblivion, the sublime, and the unknown.

Catherine Opie’s complex and diverse body of work is political, personal, and high aesthetic – the formal, conceptual, and documentary are always at play. Her work consistently engages in formal issues and maintains a formal rigor and technical mastery that underscores an aestheticized oeuvre. Visual pleasure can always be found in her arresting and seductive images.

Opie very knowingly engages art-historical conventions of representation like this in order to seduce her viewers: “I have to be interested in art history since so much of my work is related to painting and photography history. It gives me the ability to use a very familiar language that people understand when looking at my work and seduce the viewer into considering work that they might not normally want to look at. It is very classical and formal in so many ways…. In a way, it is elegant in the seduction I was talking about earlier, that this device really can draw the viewer in through the perfection of the image. It is like wearing armor for a battle in a way, the battle for people to look into themselves for the prejudices that keep them from having an open mind.”

(Jennifer Blessing. “Catherine Opie: American Photographer” in Catherine Opie: American Photographer, published by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008, p. 14).”

Press release from the Regen Projects website

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Catherine Opie. 'Diana' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Diana
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Mary' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Mary
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #5' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Untitled #5
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Oliver & Mrs. Nibbles' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Oliver & Mrs. Nibbles
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5 cm)
Edition 2/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Kate & Laura' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Kate & Laura
2012
Pigment print
77 x 58 inches (195.6 x 147.3 cm)
Edition 2/5, 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Guinevere' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Guinevere
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #2' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Untitled #2
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Friends' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Friends
2012
Pigment print
24 x 18 inches (61 x 45.7 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #1' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Untitled #1
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Edition 1/5, +2 APs

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Regen Projects
6750 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038, United States
T: +1 310-276-5424

Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10 – 6pm

Regen Project website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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