Posts Tagged ‘Niki de Saint Phalle

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.

 

 

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09
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974’ at Haus der Kunst, Munich

Exhibition dates: 11th November 2012 – 20th January 2013

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“Not taking Land art as a given the exhibition revisits various milieus and networks of heterogeneous practices around the world where the desire to engage the land or to work with the earth followed diverse artistic objectives and impulses. In researching this diversity, we found that the dominant art historical interpretation of Land art – as fundamentally an American sculptural phenomenon that developed out of Minimalism and Postminimalism, expanding into the “field” beyond art spaces to occupy or to become one with vast landscapes like the deserts of the Southwestern United States – accounts for only a limited number of artists’ works.”

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Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon. Ends of the Earth and Back catalogue essay, p.18

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This posting continues the theme of land/(e)scape, combining as it does performance, site, nonsite, language, film and earth. It is such a pity that the documentation of these early Land Art events in the form of photographs tends to be so poor. The paucity and quality of the visual evidence adds to the ephemeral, transient nature of the art while undermining the works cultural significance. As Robert Smithson notes in his commentary on the piece Spiral Jetty (1970), if the work occupies a “site” and the essay and the film are Nonsites where language (the essay), photographic images (the film), and earth (the jetty) are viewed as material equals – in other words, each is given equal weight within the project – then on the evidence of these images as a lasting artefacts of an action, the photographs seem to me to be just shorthand notes, cursory artefacts like a smudged fingerprint at a crime scene.

Is it necessary that they be great art? No, because the art was not about ego it was about being there at the actual event. But, other than an overt ability to show the outcomes of the performance, what is necessary from these documentary photographs is that they engage the viewer on a higher level than just ocular observation. While Land Art must be extremely difficult to photograph there is nothing memorable here that will stick in my consciousness, that will trigger a memory of the photograph as “vision” (hallucination, simulation, projection?) of these amazing events, which is a great shame. Rendering shapes of things does not make for memorable art, even as that very (Land) art aimed to investigate higher concepts relating to “this tortured earth.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Haus der Kunst, Munich for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Please also read the accompanying essay, Ends of the Earth and Back by Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon (615kb pdf). See the excellent Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 MOCA website for more art work and photographs via Google Earth of the original locations of the Land Art.

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Alice Aycock. 'Clay #2' 1971/2012

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Alice Aycock
Clay #2
1971/2012
1,500 pounds of clay mixed with water in wood frame
Size: each 121.9 x 121.9 x 15.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist

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Zorka Saglova. 'Laying Napkins Near Sudomer' 1970

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Zorka Saglova
Laying Napkins Near Sudomer
1970
Six gelatin-silver prints
15 3/4 × 23 5/8 in. (40 × 60 cm) each
collection of Jan Sagl

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For Laying Napkins near Sudomer, the artist laid out approximately 700 napkins to form a triangle in a grass field near Sudomer, the site of a famous Hussite battle in 1420. The action referred to local folklore relating how Hussite women would spread pieces of cloth on a marshy field to snag the spurs of the Roman Catholic cavalrymen as they dismounted, making them easy targets for the Hussite warriors.

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Michael Snow. 'La Région Centrale' 1971

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Michael Snow
La Région Centrale
1971
16mm film transferred to DVD (blackbox projection), black-andwhite, sound
191 min.
Courtesy of the artist

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Robert Kinmont. '8 Natural Handstands' 1969/2009

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Robert Kinmont
8 Natural Handstands
1969/2009
Nine gelatine silver prints
Size: each 21.5 x 21.5 cm
Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York

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Robert Kinmont 8. 'Natural Handstands' 1969/2009 (detail)

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Robert Kinmont
8 Natural Handstands (detail)
1969/2009
Nine gelatine silver prints
Size: each 21.5 x 21.5 cm
Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York

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Keith Arnatt. 'Liverpool Beach Burial' 1968

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Keith Arnatt
Liverpool Beach Burial
1968 Gelatine silver print
Size: 40.6 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Keith Arnatt Estate and Maureen Paley, London

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Liverpool Beach Burial, which the artist described as a “situational sculpture,” was realized by Arnatt with his students at the Manchester College of Art. It was first exhibited in “Konzeption – Conception: Dokumentation einer heutigen Kunstrichtung/Documentation of Today’s Art Tendency” at the Städtisches Museum, Leverkusen, Germany, in 1969. The artist recorded instructions for its making: “(1) Choosing a site and marking out a straight line. (2) Marking off 4-foot intervals. Each mark representing a digging position for each of the hundred-plus participants. (3) Each participant chose a site on the line and dug his/her own hole. (4) When the holes were deep enough the participants were ‘buried’ by nonparticipants.” (Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997], 50.)

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“As the first major museum exhibition on Land Art, Ends of the Earth provides the most comprehensive historical overview of this art movement to date. Land Art used the earth as its material and the land as its medium, thereby creating works beyond the familiar spatial framework of the art system. The time period covered in Ends of the Earth spans the 1960s to 1974, when, in the context of Land Art, movements such as Conceptual Art, Minimal Art, Happenings, Performance Art, and Arte povera, became more distinct and began to diverge.

The nearly 200 works by more than 100 artists from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Iceland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines and Switzerland demonstrate that Land Art was not a predominantly North American phenomenon. The exhibition presents works that are less well known than the canonical works Spiral Jetty, Lightning Field and Double Negative, thereby creating a shift in perspective. By including works of the then participating artists, the show refers to the earlier and pioneering exhibitions Earthworks and Earth Art (New York, 1968 and 1969). Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria are interested in realizations in outside and lend the mediated part within an exhibition only secondary importance. They are, therefore, not included in this presentation.

Even before the emergence of the movement in the 1960s, artists from the most varied locations around the globe were increasingly moved to claim the earth and use land as an artistic medium. In a basic sense, this also included the examination of the nature of the earth as a planet. Yves Klein, for instance, wondered what the earth looked like from space. In 1961, he transformed his vision that the dominant color from this perspective would be blue, and that all man-made boundaries could be overcome with this color, into his series Planetary Reliefs.

Land Art artists often worked under the open sky, making productive use of the fact that the great outdoors posed other conditions for a work’s lifespan than enclosed spaces did. Some works only existed for the short time of their creation, like Judy Chicago’s ephemeral works consisting of colored flames and smoke, which served as references to religious ceremonies and the landscape as a deity. For ten weeks, the cliffs along Little Bay, Sydney, were packed in synthetic fabric and rope for Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet, which, like many other works of Land Art, was enormous in scale. Another famous work of similar proportions was Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson; on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, the artist built a 1,500-foot long spiral-shaped jetty made of material found on site.

Land Art artists were fascinated by remote locations like deserts. Hreinn Fridfinnsson constructed a house on an uninhabited lava field near Reykjavik. The inside was made of corrugated sheet metal and the outside was covered in wall paper, because, as wall paper is intended to please the eye, “it is reasonable to have it on the outside, where more people can enjoy it.” Some artists transported the conditions of specific places into exhibition spaces: The Japanese artist group “i” moved four truckloads of gravel on a conveyor belt into an exhibition space and arranged it into a pile there. Alice Aycock fills a minimalistic grid with wet clay. This work will be recreated for the exhibition in Haus der Kunst; the clay will dry out during the run of the exhibition, will crack and gradually come to resemble the land in California’s Death Valley (Clay #2, 1971/2012). With Hog Pasture: Survival Piece #1 (1970-71/2012), not only will new material – in this case a green pasture – make on selected occasions its way into the museum but a live domestic pig as well, which will pasture on the meadow from time to time.

From the earliest days of the movement, collectors, patrons, art dealers, and curators also explored sensitively which works of Land Art could be exhibited in museums and galleries, and how this should be done. In their own way, they helped establish Land Art as a legitimate artistic genre. In the case of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty an art dealer helped funding the production of an accompanying film, and the work was executed in three equally valid versions: as the site-specific headland, as an eponymous essay and as a film.

In general, language, film, and photography played a central role in Land Art’s creation and development. Land Art artists and members of the media established close connections to one another. Magazines and television stations commissioned art works and were the first to publish these. Now legendary is Gerry Schum’s Fernsehgalerie, which was the first exhibition created for television and was broadcast by Sender Freies Berlin on 15 April 1969. For eight consecutive days in October of that same year, the WDR television network interrupted its regularly scheduled programs, at 8:15 pm and 9:15 pm, for a few seconds and presented the eight photographs of Keith Arnatt’s Self-Burial, which depicted the artist gradually sinking into the ground. The television station refrained from accompanying this with an introduction or commentary.

Following the presentation of Tinguely’s self-destructing sculpture Hommage à New York, the NBC television network commissioned the artist to create a work. In collaboration with Niki de Saint-Phalle, Tinguely made a large-scale kinetic sculpture out of waste material he had found in and around Las Vegas. The work was used in choreographed explosions that took place south-west of Las Vegas near a nuclear test site. Tinguely’s spectacle was presented in the same newscast as was a major report about the international nuclear talks, which took place that same week.

Many other works touched on the subject of “this tortured earth”, as Isamu Noguchi described it. Land Art artists examined the wounds and scars that humans inflict on the planet earth, whether by the war machinery (Robert Barry, Isamu Noguchi), dictatorships (Artur Barrio), nuclear testing (Heinz Mack, Jean Tinguely, Adrian Piper) or colonization (Yitzhak Danziger). The media’s intensive coverage of Land Art activities led to unusual and complex contributions. Receptive to Land Art’s demand for a sensitive consciousness regarding the conditions of production, presentation and dissemination of art, they also gave expression to the technological, social and political conditions of the time.

Organized in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.”

Press release from the Haus der Kunst website

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Charles Eames
Ray Eames

Powers of Ten
1977
© 1977 EAMES OFFICE LLC

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Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward – into the hand of the sleeping picnicker – with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.

This film was inspired by the 1957 book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke as well as by architect Eliel Saarinen’s statements about scale. It opens with an overhead shot of a man and a woman lyingon a picnic blanket in a park in Chicago. In an effort to depict the scale of the couple, the planet Earth, and the galaxy relative to one another and to that of the universe, the camera zooms out at a distance of a factor of ten every two seconds, until the galaxy is seen as merely a speckof light among many others. The camera then zooms back in, with ten times the magnification every ten seconds, focusing in the end on the proton of an atom.

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Charles Simonds. 'BodyEarth' 1974

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Charles Simonds
Body<—>Earth
1974
16mm film transferred to DVD, colour
3 min.
Collection of the artist

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Zorka Saglova. 'Homage to Gustav Obermann' March 1970

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Zorka Saglova
Homage to Gustav Obermann
March 1970
Six gelatin-silver prints
15 3/4 × 23 5/8 in. (40 × 60 cm) each
Collection of Jan Sagl; Courtesy Jan Sagl

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Beginning in the late 1960s, Saglova was one of the first artists to work in the landscape outside Prague, carrying out actions with her friends, many of whom were part of the artistic underground in then-Communist Czechoslovakia. For Homage to Gustav Obermann, Saglova arranged twenty-one plastic bags filled with jute and gasoline in Bransoudov (near Humpolec) in a circle during a snowstorm. The bags were set on fire at nightfall. This event was held in memory of a shoe-maker from the town who was said to have protested the German occupation during World War II by walking in the surrounding hills while spitting fire. Two months later, for Laying Napkins near Sudomer, the artist laid out approximately 700 napkins to form a triangle in a grass field near Sudomer, the site of a famous Hussite battle in 1420. The action referred to local folklore relating how Hussite women would spread pieces of cloth on a marshy field to snag the spurs of the Roman Catholic cavalrymen as they dismounted, making them easy targets for the Hussite warriors.

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Les Levine. 'Systems Burnoff X Residual Software' 1969/2012

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Les Levine
Systems Burnoff X Residual Software
1969/2012
Installation recreation 1,000 copies of 31 photographs (31,000 photographs total) taken by Levine at the March 1969 opening of EARTH ART exhibition in Ithaca, New York
Jello and chewing gum
Courtesy of the artist

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude. 'Wrapped Coast - One Million Square Feet' 1968-69

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet
1968-69
Collages, photographs, model, film
Collection of the artist

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The largest single artwork ever made, Wrapped Coast was mounted in Little Bay, Sydney, Australia, on October 28, 1969, and remained on view for ten weeks. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, with the assistance of 125 students, teachers, professional climbers, and workers and under the supervision of Major Ninian Melville, retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, wrapped approximately one and a half miles of coast, including cliffs up to 85 feet high, using synthetic fabric and rope. This was the first work in the series of Kaldor Public Art Projects initiated by Australian collector John Kaldor. The project was financed by the sale of Christo’s preparatory drawings, collages, models, and lithographs. In the end, all materials used were removed from the bay and recycled. ABC Australia filmed a documentary of the project.

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Peter Hutchinson. 'Paricutin Project' 1971

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Peter Hutchinson
Paricutin Project
1971
Photo and ink on cardboard and molded bread in object-frame
Size: 40 x 55 cm
Courtesy Galerie Bugdahn und Kaimer, Düsseldorf

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The Paricutin Project was first shown in 1969 at John Gibson Gallery in New York as a model illustrating Hutchinson’s conception of an action to take place on Mt. Paricutin, a volcanoin Michoacán, Mexico. A year later, Time magazine funded Hutchinson’s trip to the site to make the work in exchange for exclusive rights to publish the photographs. In an attempt to produce life in a place generally thought of as lifeless, the artist laid 450 pounds of bread crumbs in a line approximately 250 feet long around the rim of the volcano. Mold appeared after six days, in part because of the heat and steam rising from the earth. Two photographs of the project were published in the June 29, 1970, issue of Time. Later that same year, large-scale photographs of the work, along with text describing the trip, were shown at John Gibson Gallery.

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Patricia Johanson. 'Stephen Long' 1968

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Patricia Johanson
Stephen Long
1968
CBSTV 1968; edited by Joanna Alexander, WNET TV, New York, 1971
16mm film transferred to DVD, colour, sound
5 min.
Courtesy of the artist

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Interested in the physical limitations of sight and in measuring how far the eye can see, Johanson created this 1,600-foot-long by 2-foot-wide sculpture made of plywood planks painted with yellow, red, and blue bands. Sited on a portion of the defunct Boston & Maine Railroad tracks from Buskirk, New York, to Bennington, Vermont, the work is named after Stephen Long, a military officer who became a railroad surveyor and engineer. Both the location of the work and its title emphasize the impact of rail transportation on modern perceptions and experience of the landscape. The work gained considerable local media attention, and John Lindsay, Mayor of New York, invited Johanson to permanently install the piece in the mall at Central Park. As the available space was only 1,300 feet long, the artist, unwilling to alter the work’s length, declined the invitation.

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Kristjan Gudmundsson. 'Painting of the specific gravity of the planet Earth' 1972-73

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Kristjan Gudmundsson
Painting of the specific gravity of the planet Earth
1972-73
Acrylic on metal
Size: 25.4 x 25.4 cm
Sólveig Magnúsdóttir, Reykjavik

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Judy Chicago. 'Atmospheres: Duration Performances' 1967-74

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Judy Chicago
Atmospheres: Duration Performances
1967-74
16mm film transferred to DVD, colour, sound
14:12 min.
Courtesy of the artist

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Heinz Mack. 'Tele-Mack' 1968

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Heinz Mack
Tele-Mack
1968
16mm film transferred on DVD, colour, sound
24:35 min.
Production of Saarländischer Rundfunk, author Professor Heinz Mack
Courtesy of Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH

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A founding member of Group Zero – an artist collective established in Düsseldorf in 1958 – Mack drafted the final version of his manifesto for Sahara Project in 1959. It was first published in Zero magazine in 1961, and subsequently republished and translated from German into French, Dutch, and English in 1967 for Mackazin, the artist’s journal-catalogue. Sahara Project, made in homage to Yves Klein, proposes placing large-scale sculptural works in remote areas of the world’s deserts, like mirages to be encountered by anyone coming upon them. One such location was the Sahara Desert, which was the main testing site for French nuclear weaponry after 1958. In 1967 Mack went on an expedition to the Sahara with the German public television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), which led to two televised presentations of the project the following year – one for WDR and the other for Saarländischer Rundfunk. The popular weekly German magazine Stern presented the project in a feature spread in 1977.

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Haus der Kunst
Prinzregentenstraße 1
80538 Munich
Germany
T: +49 89 21127 113

Opening hours:
Monday - Sunday 10 am - 8 pm
Thursday 10 am - 10 pm

Haus der Kunst website

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12
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album. Vintage Photographs of the 1960s’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 20th September – 17th December 2012

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“I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive. These are my photos. I started at eighteen taking pictures. I stopped at thirty-one. (…) These represent the years from twenty-five to thirty-one, 1961 to 1967. I didn’t crop my photos. They are full frame natural light Tri-X. I went under contract to Warner Brothers at eighteen. I directed Easy Rider at thirty-one. I married Brooke at twenty-five and got a good camera and could afford to take pictures and print them. They were the only creative outlet I had for these years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again.”

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Dennis Hopper 1986

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“The necessity to make these photos and paintings came from a real place – a place of desperation and solitude – with the hope that someday these objects, paintings, and photos would be seen filling the void I was feeling.”

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Dennis Hopper 2001

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Unlike an earlier posting of photographs by a well known film director (the underwhelming, in fact pretty awful, Wim Wenders: Places, Strange and Quiet), these “lost” photographs by Dennis Hopper are very good. They perfectly capture the social milieu of the time and the pervading ethos of the fracturing of the image plane, a la Gary Winogrand or Lee Friedlander. Nice to see the work full frame as well, meaning that the photographers’ previsualisation was strong in camera; that Hopper had an excellent understanding of the construction of the pictorial frame negating the necessity for cropping of the image. Enlarging the face of Martin Luther King Jr., (below) and then looking into his eyes, I felt I had a connection with this person. Nostalgia, longing, sadness and joy at his life and the feeling that I was looking into the eyes of one of the great human beings of the twentieth century.

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

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Dennis Hopper
Guy With 5 Hogs
1961-67
Location: USA
6.97 x 9.85 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Double Standard
1961
Location: Los Angeles, Ca USA
6.87 x 9.79 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
James Rosenquist
1964
Location: Billboard Factory, Los Angeles, Ca USA
6.81 x 9.68 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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The exhibition shows a spectacular portfolio of over four hundred vintage photographs taken by Dennis Hopper in the 1960s. Tucked away in five crates and forgotten, they were discovered after his death. There can be no doubt that these works are those personally selected by Hopper from the wealth of shots he took between 1961 and 1967 for the first major exhibition of his photography. The pictures themselves document how the works were installed in the Fort Worth Art Center Museum, Texas, in 1970 by himself and Henry T. Hopkins, the museum’s director at the time. None of these works have been displayed in Europe before. The portfolio that has now come to light is a treasure. It consists of small plates, sometimes numbered on the back with brief notes in Hopper’s hand and showing traces of wear. Mounted on cardboard, without frame of glass, they were attached directly to the wall.

The images have a legendary quality. Spontaneous, intimate, poetic, unabashedly political and keenly observed, they document an exciting epoch, its protagonists and milieus. These photographs reflect the atmosphere of an era, being outstanding testimonials to America’s dynamic cultural scene in the 1960s. On the viewer they exercise an irresistible attraction, bearing him away on a journey into the past, often into his own history.

Many of these pictures are icons, such as the portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman and Jane Fonda. They also cover a wide range of subjects. Dennis Hopper is interested in everything. Wherever he happens to be, whether in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico or Peru, he takes in his surroundings with empathy, enthusiasm and intense curiosity. He seeks and savours the “essential moment”, capturing the celebrities and types of his time with the camera: actors, artists, musicians, his family, bikers and hippies. He leaves an impressive photographic record of the “street life” of Harlem, of cemeteries in Mexico, and of bullfights in Tijuana. Hopper accompanies Martin Luther King Jr. on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and, in images of great beauty and serenity, he converts the every day life and the neglected into a picture of beauty and silence as if converting Abstract Expressionism from the language of painting into that of photography.

Between 1961 and 1967 Hopper applied himself intensely on photography.

Hopper’s photographs are legendary images, spontaneous, intimate, and poetic as well as decidedly political and keenly observant – documents of an exciting period, its protagonists and milieus. Many of these photos have become iconic: the portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman or Jane Fonda. They also cover a range of topics and motifs. Hopper was interested in everything. Wherever he was, in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico or Peru, he was a precise observer, full of empathy and curiosity. He captured the geniuses of his day, the actors, artists, musicians and poets, his family and friends, the “scene”, bikers and hippies. He wandered the streets of Harlem and the graveyards of Durango and watched the bullfights in Tijuana with fascination. Hopper followed Martin Luther King Jr. with his camera on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. And he paid attention to things small, ordinary, and neglected, transforming the “remains of our world” into images of great beauty and tranquility, as if converting Abstract Expressionist painting into the language of photography.

Press release from the Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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Dennis Hopper
Andy Warhol and Members of The Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, Jack Smith)
1963
Location: in The Factory, NYC, NY USA
6.57 x 9.87 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Niki de Saint Phalle (kneeling)
1963
Location: USA
6.66 x 9.83 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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The Lost Album

Gelatine silver vintage prints, 1970
Collection of the Dennis Hopper Art Trust

More than four hundred photos came to light after Hopper’s death. He had selected them for his first photography exhibition in 1970 at the Fort Worth Art Center Museum. They show signs of wear: fingerprints, scratches, discoloration, a frayed corner or tiny dent. Mounted on cardboard, numbered on the back with notes in Hopper’s handwriting, they were hung directly on the wall from small wooden strips without frames or glass. The hanging in the Martin-Gropius-Bau is based on the original installation of 1970.

The vintage prints, in portrait and landscape format, are all of a similar size, ca. 24 x 16 cm; twenty of them are in a larger format (ca. 33 x 23 cm). Of the 429 Hopper chose for his first exhibition, eleven are believed lost; they are replaced here by new prints, which will be clearly indicated. In only two cases was it impossible to locate the corresponding negative, and a placeholder with the title is mounted instead. The rediscovered boxes contained an additional nineteen, unnumbered vintage prints along with the 429, which Hopper took with him to Fort Worth but probably never hung in the exhibition. They have been incorporated into the “Album” here (I-XIX).

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Additional information on the photographs

1. Brooke Hayward, Marin Hopper

Brooke Hayward, born and raised in Los Angeles, was at home in the glamorous world of Hollywood through her parents, the film producer Leland Hayward and Hollywood star Margaret Sullavan, and Hopper in turn knew a lot of extraordinary people through his involvement in the acting and art worlds. Hopper and Hayward’s home became the center of an illustrious group of actors, artists, musicians, writers, and film producers. Soon after moving [into their house] they threw a “movie star party” for Andy Warhol to celebrate his second exhibition at the Ferus Gallery (1963).

“Since I was a small child, growing up in L.A., I remember that my dad was always capturing the scene around him through the lens of his camera. What he always described as taking the most pleasure in exploring, or focusing on, much like Marcel Duchamp signing the Hotel-Green-Sign for him on the night of his opening at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963, and Rauschenberg’s practice, was the philosophy that an artist can point to something and claim it’s art because in that moment it is to them.” (Marin Hopper, 2012)

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2. Los Angeles Art Scene

Walter Hopps and Edward Kienholz founded the Ferus Gallery at 736A North La Cienega Boulevard in March 1957. Ferus was very underground, like a crazy club with exhibitions, readings and fashion shows. “The openings were wild, everybody had a blast, and nobody made a penny.” Hopper attended every opening and went to performances and happenings, whether it was Oldenburg’s Los Angeles performance Autobodys in 1963, Robert Rauschenberg’s performance Pelican at the Culver City Ice Rink in 1966, or Allan Kaprow’s Fluids in 1967, when with the help of friends he stacked blocks of ice to form enclosures at different sites in Los Angeles.

In 1966, Claes Oldenburg made a piece of plaster wedding cake (which he stamped on the back) for each guest at the wedding party for Jim Elliot, curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Rauschenberg was wearing this stamp on his tongue when Hopper photographed him at the wedding.

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3. New York

Hopper frequently traveled to New York, strolling through the Museum of Modern Art and the galleries, sometimes in the company of Henry Geldzahler, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and visited Warhol, at whose Factory he encountered Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead or David Hockney. Hopper met Robert Rauschenberg in New York and visited Roy Lichtenstein in his studio.

In London, where he exhibited his assemblages at the Robert Fraser Gallery in 1964, he made the acquaintance of Peter Blake, one of the key figures of British Pop Art, David Hemmings, the star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow up (1966), and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

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4. Civil Rights Marches

The Selma to Montgomery March: “[Marlon] Brando got me involved [in the march] … He pulled up in his car and said, ‘What are you doing day after tomorrow?’ and I said ‘Nothing’, and he said, ‘You want to go to Selma?’ And I said, ‘Sure, man. Thanks for asking me!’ [Then at the march, police] dogs were biting, and people were being bombed, and it was like, ‘Where are we?'” (Dennis Hopper)

The third march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, began on March 21, 1965, extended for 54 miles, took five days, and involved 4,000 marchers led by Martin Luther King Jr. and allies such as Ralph David Abernathy, Sr. It was the highpoint of the American Civil Rights Movements. Hundreds of ministers, priests, nuns, and rabbis followed King’s call to Selma. “It was like a holy crusade …” Numerous photographers, such as Spider Martin, James Karales, Steve Shapiro, and Bruce Davidson, documented the largest ever gathering of people during the civil rights movement in the South.

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5. Mexico

He was completely obsessed with bullfighting and began attending fights regularly at the Tijuana arena in the 1950s. Hopper went to Mexico as an actor in 1965 when Henry Hathaway surprisingly offered him a role in his film The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).

A Western town was erected in the middle of Durango. Of course, Hopper had his camera with him. He photographed John Wayne and Dean Martin on the set and natives who were part of the crew or who just stopped by to watch, but he also roamed the area and the streets of Durango and Mexico City. In the 1920s and 1930s Mexico had held a great fascination for European as well as American avant-garde painters, photographers, and writers. Edward Weston lived in Mexico City; Henri Cartier-Bresson went there for a year in 1934, befriending the young photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Their images have shaped our perception of that country, a perception that is also echoed by some of Hopper’s photographs.

Wall texts from the exhibition

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Dennis Hopper
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1965
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
9.2 x 13.6 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Martin Luther King, Jr. (detail)
1965
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
9.2 x 13.6 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
James Brown
1966
Location: USA
9.7 x 6.77 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Paul Newman
1964
Location: Malibu, Ca USA
9.7 x 6.66 inches
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
Phone +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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